Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has issued a rallying cry for New Zealanders to “lead the world again” in the fight against Covid-19 and achieve a 90 percent vaccination rate by the end of the year.
New Zealand, with just 27 deaths from the pandemic, has been praised for its public health response to the deadly virus.
Ms Ardern’s government hopes to overwhelm countries like Portugal, Singapore and the UAE – which have fully vaccinated more than 75 percent of their adult populations – to once again top the world rankings.
“Let’s be on top,” she said in Wellington on Thursday. “This is our chance to lead the world again.”
New Zealand is the longest-running leader of Bloomberg’s Resilience Index, which ranks provinces based on their response to COVID-19, including freedoms restored to its citizens.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants the country to reach a 90 percent vaccination rate by the end of the year.
However, the country is currently in the lower half of Bloomberg’s chart, due to its response to the current Delta outbreak.
Ms Ardern’s government last month imposed a swift and brutal lockdown within hours of identifying a community case.
While most of New Zealand was lifted from restrictions three weeks later, 1.7 million Kiwis in the Auckland region will remain at home for a sixth week.
Now New Zealand is charting a path that makes it possible to lift the lockdowns but avoid the huge human toll seen in other parts of the world.
“It all comes down to vaccination,” said Mrs Ardern.
As of Thursday, New Zealand has fully vaccinated 40 percent of adults, with 75 percent receiving one dose of Pfizer’s two-dose treatment.
That’s up from just 22 percent and 39 percent on August 17, when the Delta outbreak was first identified — underscoring how the recent outbreak has spurred New Zealanders into action.
Those numbers are still far behind world leaders such as Portugal (84 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated), UAE (81 percent) and Singapore (77 percent).
By comparison, Australia has 49 percent fully vaccinated and 74 percent partially vaccinated.
To make the government’s job even more difficult, they are targeting not only 90 percent of vaccinated New Zealanders, but also 90 percent of the high-risk groups.
“I hate the idea of even one avoidable death,” Ms Ardern said last week, adding on Thursday: “Ninety percent or more is my target.”
Customers queuing at KFC (stock image) could be pinned under a strategy to increase vaccination levels
“Having pockets of a community where the rates are lower leads to the potential for an outbreak,” she said.
“We need to make sure we have equitable coverage that sees our Maori, our Pacific, our countryside, our isolated communities with high vaccination rates… we don’t want to leave people behind.”
In that regard, the government has more work to do.
New Zealand has contracted with Pfizer for the full rollout, and after deals with Spain and Denmark in the past two weeks, it has enough vaccine to cover the entire country.
While 91 percent of over-65s received their first dose of Pfizer’s two-dose regimen, only 52 percent of Maori and 67 percent of people in the Pacific had been partially vaccinated on Wednesday.
Maori party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said Covid-19 restrictions should only be relaxed if vulnerable indigenous communities are properly protected.
“The standard should be tangata whenua (people of the land, or Maori) and tangata moana (people of the ocean, or people of the Pacific). It has to be based on those communities,” he said.
There is also a shortage of Kiwis engaged in the system.
Only 79 percent are either ‘vaccinated or booked’, showing that Ms Ardern’s government needs to improve outreach to reach its lofty goal of 90 percent.
Auckland experienced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns as it tried to stop a Covid-19 outbreak from spreading
The prime minister says New Zealand is “pulling out all the stops” and is open to unconventional routes to its goal.
Whippy-style buses with health teams on board tour under-vaccinated Auckland suburbs, drive-through stations are open and the idea of poking in line at KFC is cherished.
The idea is not so crazy: New Zealand’s love for KFC is well known.
Reports of the arrest of two men by police who tried to enter locked-down Auckland with ‘a suitcase full of KFC’ made international headlines this week.
Closer to home, the NZ Herald reported that a man is pitching a tent for his local fried chicken takeaway ahead of the restaurant’s reopening on Wednesday.
Still, more could be done.
The buses have yet to get going: only 400 people were vaccinated during their first week of operation.
And the government has yet to roll out a massive advertising campaign to get more Kiwis – and especially young people – up their sleeves.
“What every country has been through is a point where you get to a certain (vaccination) rate, and ours is higher than most, where it gets a little more difficult,” said Ms Ardern.
“We need conversations. We also have to be creative.
“We have the vaccines we need. We have the staff ready to do the job.
“So have that conversation with your whanau (family) or friends.
‘Help someone make a booking, or give them a lift to a vaccination center.
Every action – big and small – brings us one step closer to the opportunities and freedoms we all want.
‘During the entire debate, among modellers and researchers, one simple message remains: get vaccinated’