A first look at the figures of the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand does not seem to alert: 63 new cases this Tuesday (24), or 13 per million inhabitants, and no death due to the disease since February 15 . In comparison, Brazil recorded 30.8 thousand infections, a rate of 145.2 per million.
The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story. The Oceania country is facing a new epidemic and the daily average of infections has jumped 792% in the past 14 days, the fifth highest increase in the world. Tuesday’s 63 infections represent a level that has not been reached since April 2020.
Seen as an example in the fight against the pandemic, New Zealand had been virtually free from the virus for six months, without recording any cases of local transmission and with a scenario similar to that of the pre-coronavirus world – the country even opened a travel corridor with its neighbor Australia. The situation changed, however, after the arrival of an infected passenger from Sydney on the 7th, which spawned the current epidemic.
The response of the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, re-elected largely due to the management of the health crisis, has been the same as at other times: to reimpose phase 4 of the alert system is that is, total containment. , the first determined throughout the territory for over a year. In force from the 17th, the restriction was renewed at least until Friday (27) in the country and Tuesday (31) in Auckland, where the contamination was detected.
The current situation, however, is different. The delta variant, first identified in India and the most contagious, is responsible for all infections analyzed, according to data from Our World in Data, and vaccination is progressing slowly – only 39% of the population had received the first dose of the Covid vaccine until Wednesday (25), and 21.8% were fully immune, a figure lower than that of Brazil.
Announcing the extent of the lockdown on Monday (23), Jacinda explained that the delta spread was being analyzed. “[O epidemiologista] David Skegg, in a recent report to the government, said the delta variant will be more difficult to control with just testing and monitoring, ”the Prime Minister said. “This means that the safest option now is to keep level 4 longer.”
Hopefully, the New Zealand leader ended her speech by saying the plan worked before and people can make it work again – she did not mention the vaccination, however. And the most transmissible strain in a poorly immunized population is a risk to Jacinda’s strategy.
Even countries with more advanced vaccinations have seen an increase in cases attributed to the delta mutation. In the United States, 51.2% are fully immune, but the number of infections has increased by 28% in the past 14 days. Already, Israel claims 63% of the population fully vaccinated, which hasn’t stopped the government from adopting the third dose to fight the peak of 98% of cases in the past two weeks.
New Zealand, meanwhile, is still struggling to put both doses in the arms of its people. This slowness is mainly due to the delay in the arrival of injections, according to Michael Baker, professor in the department of public health at the University of Otago.
The government shut down the purchase of 1.5 million doses of Pfizer in October last year, three months after then-US President Donald Trump bought millions of drugs from the company. These vaccines, enough to fully immunize about 15% of the country’s 4.9 million people, were due to arrive in the first quarter of this year.
In November, 5 million more doses, this time of Janssen, for single use, were pre-booked – 2 million for July and 3 million for 2022. In December, 7.6 million more injections of AstraZeneca and 10 , 72 million Novavax have been acquired, forming a sufficient reserve for the entire population.
The problem, however, was that the prediction, even then, was that vaccination for the general population would not be available until the second half of 2021, after the vaccination of essential workers. Since the start of the year, the government has been criticized for the delay in approving the application of vaccination agents, even though the purchases were already triggered.
At the end of the year, Jacinda said the country “is going as fast as it can get” and will not speed up permits or compromise vaccine safety. In January, the Department of Health told the British Financial Times that the local situation was not the same as that of others in a state of emergency, an assessment shared by Baker, for whom “other countries needed the vaccine “than them.
Pfizer’s approval, for example, took place on February 3, two months after validation in the UK. In response to opposition lawmaker Chris Bishop, the government said there was a condition in the contract that no product could be shipped until approval, according to state-owned TVNZ1.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins explained that the request had been made on January 29, a few days earlier, as it was certain the vaccine would be approved. However, according to the responses Bishop received, the first shipment was 65-52,000 doses, which he considered low.
Despite criticism, vaccines arrived without delay and the government met the deadline, with essential workers immunizing starting in February and the general population in July. Today, vaccination is accessible to everyone from the age of 12.
The situation therefore now seems to be starting to reverse. Astrid Koornneef, head of the Covid-19 vaccination operations group at the Ministry of Health, points out that the vaccination program is going as planned and that 80,033 doses were applied in the country on Tuesday, a daily record.
Average injections per day had risen slowly until July 19, when the number hovered between 17,000 and 19,000. Since then, the index has risen rapidly, thanks to government efforts, Koornneef says. Mass vaccination events, companies immunizing their employees and drive-thru enforcement, especially around lockdown, are some of the reasons cited for the acceleration.
In addition, 80 new vaccination centers were opened last week. “And we continue to see a strong interest of New Zealanders to mark the candidacy, with more than 1.64 million appointments made in the system”, specifies the person in charge to Folha, by e-mail.
Hesitation was not a big problem in the country. According to a Massey University poll released in June, only 8% of the population say they do not want to be vaccinated – in the United States, it’s 18%.
Still, the program faces stumbling blocks. On Wednesday (25), the government confirmed that five people vaccinated in Auckland last month may have received saline instead of the vaccine solution and were not alerted, according to the country’s state radio.
The demand center, in turn, says it has no way of determining who of the 732 people served that day was affected. The government is still assessing how to handle the situation and whether everyone should be given an extra dose. Authorities also said they would receive a letter within 24 hours.