Following the trails left by SKWAWKBOX, I very quickly became an advocate of Jacinda Ardern's zero-COVID strategy in New Zealand. Their elimination strategy, following WHO guidelines and explicitly rejecting a herd immunity strategy without a vaccine as 'unthinkable'. It has given New Zealand the lowest COVID-19 mortality rate in the OECD, a high level of freedoms, and above-average economic performance. If New Zealand had experienced the same mortality as the UK (around 2000 per million), New Zealand would have had 10,000 deaths. Instead NZ has suffered 28 deaths (5 per million).
|We all need heroes - Jacinda Ardern is one of ours|
There have been occasional leaks, but the protective media dyke-wall that has surrounded the UK's policy of herd immunity from the very beginning of the pandemic remains intact. Stories about NZ's success and experiences are not for trumpeting. I first picked up this new development in the NZ story earlier this week in the 'i' when they carried a small article focusing on a Maori leader's criticism of Jacinda Ardern and her treatment of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. The last sentence of thereport simply said that the NZ prime minister disagreed with these criticisms.
My google research has now revealed what has been happening. Here is the story:
- On Monday 4 October (not quite a fortnight ago), Jacinda Ardern announced that the country was shifting from a policy of elimination to a mitigation approach more in line with policies in other developed countries. In her words, 'But that is okay. Elimination was important because we didn't have vaccines. Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things'.
- Changes on the ground are minimal, for now. In Auckland, the only region under lockdown, groups of up to 10 are now permitted to assemble outside, and early childhood education has resumed. Further lifting of restrictions are planned, at unspecified dates.
- The shift was one 'we were always going to make over time', Ardern said. But, as she acknowledged, events in Auckland have 'accelerated' this transition. A delta variant outbreak began in Auckland on 17 August and was largely eliminated within 2-3 weeks of lockdown. But then the virus became established in marginalized populations in south Auckland, including people living in temporary housing and motorcycle gangs. The outbreak continued for a further four weeks and is still slowly growing.
- The government has signaled that it's aiming for 90% coverage of the eligible population aged 12 years and over - an achievable goal. First dose coverage is 80%, and fully vaccinated coverage is at 51% but rising quickly. Rod Jackson, one of the leading epidemiologists in NZ, believes they will need 95% minimum coverage - and this will mean compulsory vaccines for health workers, people in education, the police, and supermarket workers, and then giving businesses the licence to bring in 'no jab, no job, no entry' policies. He applauded the pragmatism of the government in allowing a senior motor-cycle gang member to enter Auckland (officially cut off from non-essential workers) because he is pro-vaccine.
- Maori and Pacific island peoples are far more likely to experience health and social inequalities in NZ - and they have more youthful age distributions. The apparent low take-up of vaccines within these groups is in part due to the prioritizing of older age groups - where non-Maori and non-Pacific groups have quite similar coverage levels compared with indigenous New Zealanders.
- Getting the message of vaccination across to the marginalized is key. As Rod Jackson says: 'The populations that are hardest to reach with vaccinations are often the easiest to reach for the virus. I worry like hell for about the 20% who have not had their first shot.'
|163,000 plus deaths from COVID-19 in the UK - and still counting|
I wish the New Zealanders well in their humane and intelligent approach to this pandemic. They have always put their people first. Here in the UK that commitment to all the people, all the citizens, of our country has been absent. Remember, 163,000 have died so far - and still the coffins are being made.