New Zealand reports highest daily number of Covid-19 cases despite ramping up vaccination effort

New Zealand has recorded its highest-ever daily Covid-19 infection count with just shy of 100 new local cases, despite over 80% of citizens having had at least one vaccine dose. Officials have blamed the spike on rule-breakers.

The nation’s remaining hopes of achieving ‘zero Covid’ have shown no signs of coming any closer to reality, as Tuesday saw 94 new coronavirus infections. The latest figure announced by New Zealand health officials is an all-time record after a previous high of 89 cases in a single day, which occurred twice earlier in the pandemic. The bulk of the new cases were detected in Auckland, the island’s largest city by population, though seven were located in the Waikato district, some 110km (68 miles) south of the metropolis.

Addressing the surge in cases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that those running afoul of Auckland’s ongoing lockdown rules – which have been in effect for around two months now – are helping to drive the new infections, and insisted the country is not “powerless” to tackle the health crisis.

“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” the PM said, using an indigenous name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”

The new spike comes despite a relatively high immunization rate in the country. According to health officials, at least 85% of the population have had their first vaccine dose, with 67% being fully vaccinated. Almost 130,000 jabs were made during Saturday’s nationwide ‘Super Saturday Vaxathon’ event, including 91,000 second doses. The previous record for single-day vaccination was a little more than 93,000 injections. The country has a total population of about five million, with Auckland being home to 1.66 million people.

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A sign in a closed playground in Auckland, New Zealand, August 2021. © Fiona Goodall / Reuters
New Zealand to phase out ‘zero Covid’ strategy due to vaccination & difficulties with Delta variant

The isolated Pacific nation has long kept the disease at bay with quarantines, snap lockdowns and swift identification of local transmissions through contact tracing and mass testing. But two weeks ago, Ardern announced that the strategy was no longer feasible due to the more-infectious Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-19 virus. She assured the public that this was not a cause for serious worry, since effective vaccines were widely available.

New Zealand has set a vaccination-rate target of 90% among people over 12 to further reduce lockdown measures. Some people fear the decision to partially reopen this month was taken prematurely and that the national healthcare system may not be ready for a surge of infections.

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