New Zealand has ruled out following in the footsteps of the UK by lifting all restrictions as new variants rip through society.
On Monday, Boris Johnson announced plans to scrap regulations including on face masks and social distancing by 19 July, saying that Britain must “learn to live with” the virus.
He said Covid cases would likely reach 50,000 a day within a fortnight, and “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid”.
“That’s not something that we have been willing to accept in New Zealand,” the country’s Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, said at a press conference alongside the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Tuesday.
“One of the things the UK government have been very clear about [is] that there will be a spike in cases, potentially thousands of cases a day. There will be more people dying,” he said.
“We are likely to see more incremental change than dramatic change where we wake up one morning and say: ‘We just go back to the way things were before Covid-19.’”
“Different countries are taking different choices”
Ardern, asked whether the country would accept deaths from Covid, said: “Different countries are taking different choices.
“The priority for me is how do we continue to preserve what New Zealand has managed to gain and give ourselves options, because this virus is not done with the world yet.”
Epidemiologist and public health professor Michael Baker said New Zealand’s future roadmap could be built on a mixture of high vaccination and other measures such as mask mandates, or limited lockdowns to contain outbreaks.
He said the country was in a “privileged position” where it could make an informed choice about whether to continue with an elimination approach or change tack.
He also said public health professionals were “disturbed” by the UK’s return to allowing Covid to circulate unchecked, and that the phrase “living with it” was a “meaningless slogan” that failed to communicate the consequences of millions of infections, or the alternative options for managing the virus.
“We often absorb a lot of our rhetoric from Europe and North America, which have really managed the pandemic very badly,” he said. “I don’t think we should necessarily follow or accept Boris Johnson and co saying: “Oh, we have to learn to live with virus.’
“We always have to be a bit sceptical about learning lessons from countries that have failed very badly.”