New Zealand queries virus approach as Delta outbreak grows
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins reported a further 21 cases in a virus cluster that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run of no local cases and sparking a national lockdown.
"The scale of infectiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put our system under strain," he told TVNZ.
New Zealand's widely praised Covid-19 response -- which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million -- centres on eliminating the virus from the community.
It has relied on strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through, but Hipkins said Delta may force a rethink.
"(Delta's) like nothing we've dealt with before in this pandemic," he said.
"It does change everything, it means that all of our existing preparations begin to look less adequate and raises some pretty big questions about the future of our long-term plans."
Neighbouring Australia has also pursued a "Covid zero" strategy and been similarly frustrated as its Delta cases continue to spike.
Only about 20 percent of the population is fully inoculated, one of the lowest rates in the developed world.
Opposition National Party spokesman Chris Bishop said the outbreak had exposed a lack of urgency in Wellington's vaccine plans.
"The government's complacency and inability to ensure supply and delivery of the vaccine has made us all sitting ducks, completely vulnerable to the Delta variant when it inevitably got into the community," he said.
Another opposition figure, ACT Party leader David Seymour, said Hipkins could not use the Delta variant as an excuse for current failures.
"We've known about Delta since December, what's he been doing in the meantime?" he asked.
The national lockdown is due to expire late Tuesday, although Hipkins indicated Auckland could face further restrictions even if they were lifted elsewhere.
"If I was an Aucklander, I'd certainly be preparing to be at home for a bit longer," he said.