New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern
On 4 October, New Zealand, the poster child of the “Zero Covid” idea, announced that it would shift to a new approach.
NZ had a Covid case count of literally zero briefly in June 2020, and then kept the count low by rigid border-closure and repeated short lockdowns. Since mid-August, however, lockdowns have not quelled a new rise in the Covid count, with the Delta variant.
The government’s strategy now is to keep looser restrictions, vaccinate fast, and look to reopening the country and accepting the virus as “endemic” (always there, at least in the background) when it has vaccinated 90% of its over-11 population.
It is currently at 57%, with another 25% first-jabbed. Health workers will have to be jabbed by 1 December, or lose their jobs, and education workers, by 1 January.
Ashley Bloomfield, NZ’s Director-General of Health, has written that he hopes for vaccination to bring “herd immunity” (enough people immune that chains of infection are short and outbreaks spread little).
That seems unlikely, since the vaccines protect well against severe infection but only loosely against mild infection and transmission, and their effect wanes over time; but a sufficient rate of semi-immunity to limit spikes may be possible for a while, especially as NZ is moving into its summer. Then new rounds of vaccination plus acquired immunity from previous (mild) infection can damp down the virus.
If so, NZ will have got through the onset of Covid-19 with an outstandingly low toll. That is mostly due to geographical luck (few arrivals from Italy, France, etc. in early 2020, so NZ’s first lockdown, even though later than the UK’s, could get cases to zero; being two remote islands, so with political will numbers of people entering can be reduced near zero).
Worldwide Covid counts are edging down.
But there are continued spikes in Russia and Serbia, and may well be surges in other countries in the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Labour movements must still fight for requisitioning Big Pharma; for a coordinated drive to produce vaccines and vaccinate including in the poorest countries; for full isolation pay; for boosting public health and care services; and for workers’ control of workplace safety.
• Next week we’ll comment on the 12 October Parliamentary report on pandemic management in Britain