New Zealand Authorities Model 5,000 Cases a Week After ‘Zero COVID’ Policy Ends

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCT. 13: Onehunga Mall is largely empty of shoppers on Oct. 13, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. 55 new COVID-19 cases have been recorded in New Zealand in the last 24 hours. 53 of those cases are in Auckland, and two in Waikato. (Image: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Authorities in New Zealand are preparing for a potential influx of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients after Health Ministry modelling forecasted more than 5,000 positive PCR tests per week may occur in the Auckland and Northland regions next year despite 90 percent of the population having accepted vaccination, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Thursday.

Little, in conversation with Radio New Zealand said, “That’s the worst-case scenario, but even at that level the vast bulk of people who would get infected would recover at home, or somewhere else in the community…”

The expected rise in cases is being attributed to a recent decision by authorities to abandon the country’s “zero COVID-19” approach, which resulted in some of the most oppressive lockdown measures seen in the English-speaking world.

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To date, New Zealand has recorded 4,831 positive PCR tests with 28 COVID-19 associated deaths, according to worldometers.info.

Seventy-one infections were reported in New Zealand on Thursday, the highest tally since early September. 

New Zealand was one of a handful of countries that was blessed with an infection rate close to zero in 2020, but the rise of the Delta variant in mid-August has the government saying that stamping out the disease entirely is an unreasonable goal, and that the nation needs to learn to live with the virus while attempting to control spread.

New Zealand was enforcing lockdowns — after a single positive case was detected in August —  affecting some 1.7 million people in the nation’s largest city of Auckland, but authorities are now phasing out restrictions, which began to be lifted mid last week. 

The island nation has had one of the most aggressive approaches to battling the virus, isolating patients in government quarantine facilities or hospitals and imposing strict lockdown measures in an attempt to crush COVID entirely.