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New Zealand grapples with Delta – and Tucker Carlson

17 15 23

On August 17, a 58-year-old man from Auckland became symptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19. It was New Zealand’s first community case of the coronavirus in almost six months.

Within hours, the nation of five million moved into alert level four, part of its “go hard, go early” approach. All travel outside of people’s homes was forbidden, except to fetch supplies, visit pharmacies or exercise.

The country largely ground to a halt.

“We have seen the dire consequences of taking too long to act in other countries, not least our neighbours,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, while announcing the cabinet’s decision to impose a lockdown that evening.

Within a few days, one case had grown to 21 cases. After a week, to 148 cases. By August 31, the cluster contained 612 cases.

One month after imposing the snap lockdown, New Zealand has bent the curve and may be able to eliminate an outbreak of the potent Delta variant of COVID-19 – though it is no sure thing.

As of September 20, some 1,051 people in Auckland and 17 people in the capital city, Wellington, have been infected with the virus, of whom 694 have recovered. Contact tracers have methodically identified tens of thousands of contacts – and hundreds of locations of interest – part of an updated track-and-trace system repurposed to cast a much wider net around the far more transmissible Delta variant.

The outbreak, now spread across 20 subclusters, 10 of which have been epidemiologically linked, presents the most serious challenge to elimination that New Zealand has faced so far. With its fragmented public health system under intense strain from decades of under-funding, any unchecked spread of the Delta variant would see hospitals rapidly overwhelmed.

But New Zealanders rallied behind the restrictions, sticking to their “bubbles”, masking up and watching patiently as cases peaked, then began to decline – though the outbreak’s tail is proving persistent.

If the country does eliminate this outbreak, it would once again validate the “go hard, go early” approach that officials have taken over the past 18 months. With Auckland set to move to the more permissive alert level three at 11:59pm on September 21, case numbers over the coming weeks will be closely watched for any sign of uncontained spread.

Yet, as with previous outbreaks, the clamour from critics of the government started almost immediately, a chorus of whinge.

Business special interests laundered their messaging through an uncritical media – “certainty” they chanted, while pressuring for a move down alert levels.

“We also know that in lockdown Treasury has forecast it to cost the country NZ$1.45 billion [$1.02bn] per week – and that’s just the economic impact,” Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson told broadcaster Newstalk ZB.

Incredibly, less than a week into lockdown,........

© Al Jazeera

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