The government maintains that the elimination strategy is the best plan for New Zealand, but does not say how long it intends to use lockdowns to end any future outbreaks.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says vaccination rates will be critical to any future response, with the sole stated goal of getting them as high as possible.
Tāmaki Makaurau faces another week at alert level 4 as officials are still working to fully contain the outbreak, while the rest of the country remains at alert level 2.
ACT Party leader David Seymour is now calling for the elimination strategy to be dropped if the Auckland lockdown does not bear fruit for the week.
“There may not be easy answers, but clearly we have had a strategy that has worked a bit and has run out of track. Now we must consider what a new strategy would look like,” he said.
Seymour has proposed a suppression strategy in Auckland, with a rigid border to prevent the virus from spreading to other regions.
“It may be worth saving the rest of the country while keeping Auckland at a level of restriction that allows Auckland companies to do business while we wait for vaccination rates to be high enough.”
However, Covid-19 modeler Professor Shaun Hendy says abandoning the elimination strategy would be devastating for both businesses and the healthcare system.
He said giving up on eradicating the virus now would result in a large number of deaths and prolonged periods of restrictions, as seen in New South Wales.
“Really, we’re looking at a couple of weeks at the most. I think of alert level 4 and then a relaxation to alert level 3 back to 2 and then back to 1 so we can have a relatively normal summer here in Nueva. Zealand, “he said.
“The alternative really is to stay at alert level 3, which is still very difficult for companies, for a long time, well into next year, in addition to what would be a health emergency.”
“So I think from an economic point of view, extending the lockdown to deal with this outbreak and then getting back to normal as quickly as possible is the right strategy.”
Professor Hendy says he’s confident that the latest Delta outbreak can be eliminated if the team of five million stays the course.
“We weren’t sure going into this outbreak how well Alert Level 4 would work against Delta, but we’ve actually seen it work very effectively.
“So we thought that as long as we’re prepared to stay the course, put in a little extra mahi that will really pay off and we can eliminate this sprout.”
Chris Bishop, a spokesman for the National Party Covid-19 Response, believes removal is still possible if testing, tracing, and vaccination are done properly and hospitals are prepared to cope.
“Once we give up on elimination, we can never go back. So it’s a very, very big move. New Zealand has accomplished something that no other country has.
“Prior to this most recent outbreak, we got rid of Covid-19 from our community … We have the tools, capacity, and technologies at our disposal to make elimination work for us.”
Health CEO Ashley Bloomfield says the current lockdown in Auckland is working and the public just needs to stay the course.
Looking ahead, he says that even other countries with high vaccination rates still have to apply restrictions at times.
“[Other countries] they still have to apply restrictions intermittently to protect their population and to protect their health systems, regardless of the resources their health systems have.
“So there is a lot of water flowing under the bridge and right now our goal is to vaccinate at the highest possible level.”