New Zealand abandons its COVID elimination strategy

New Zealand, which made headlines last year for being one of the only countries in the world to largely eliminate coronavirus, has now been forced to abandon that strategy.

At one point New Zealand had no known cases of the virus, thanks to its strict lockdowns and geographic isolation.

But its most recent outbreak, which began in August, has continued to grow and the government has announced that it will no longer attempt to bring the number of cases back down to zero.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the highly infectious Delta variant has exacerbated the situation.

The government will instead rely on mass vaccination and slowing its spread, and will end its lockdowns once 90% of the eligible population is vaccinated.

This was always the plan, the prime minister says, but Delta has pressured them to move the timetable up. Some restrictions in the city of Auckland are already scheduled to lift this week.

New Zealand currently has about 1,300 recorded COVID cases and half the population is vaccinated.

Some political parties have criticized the announcement, including some of Ardern's coalition partners. They say the move puts vulnerable communities at risk.

The country's main opposition party says the situation has grown out of control.

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