New Zealand is abandoning its phased rollout of COVID-19 vaccine and will encourage Kiwis to get their jabs as soon as possible.
The increased threat of the Delta variant of the virus – as experienced by NSW – has prompted Jacinda Ardern’s government into a raft of COVID-19 response reforms.
The changes include delaying the time between vaccine doses, eventual shifts from a mandatory fortnight of quarantine on arrival and a new risk matrix that will govern international travel.
The most immediate shift is to vaccine eligibility timelines.
Previously, Ms Ardern’s government was planning on a rollout that left under-30s unable to get vaccinated until late October.
The timeline has been collapsed, and everyone will be eligible for their first dose of Pfizer on September 1.
“The first step in our plan is speeding up the vaccination process to ensure everyone is at least partially vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk and impact of Delta entering the country,” Ms Ardern said.
Ms Ardern said the central ambition – to vaccinate every consenting adult Kiwi by the end of the year – remained the same.
“Getting vaccinated is the No.1 thing everyone can do to be protected against COVID-19, help accelerate our economic recovery, reduce the risk of lockdowns, and safely allow New Zealand’s borders to begin re-opening next year,” she said.
The changes come after the release of three pieces of cabinet advice, authored by celebrated University of Otago epidemiologist David Skegg and an expert group, on Wednesday.
Addressing the “Reconnecting New Zealanders to the world” forum in Wellington on Thursday alongside Ms Ardern, Professor Skegg said the response was “going to be a drawn-out war between the human race and a microbe”.
“Despite remarkable scientific progress, in developing highly effective and safe vaccines, the virus is still winning the war,” he said.
As of this week, 29 per cent of Kiwis have received their first shot of vaccine, with 17 per cent fully vaccinated. That puts New Zealand 115th for per capita doses administered worldwide.
The fear of Delta will prompt the government to continue its highly restrictive border regime until next year.
In 2022, New Zealand will begin to designate countries either high, medium or low-risk, with travellers from each country treated differently.
Travel from low-risk countries will operate similarly to the trans-Tasman bubble, allowed quarantine-free entry.
Ms Ardern said travellers from medium-risk countries would be asked to complete “a combination of self-isolation and/or reduced” quarantine.
New Zealand will pilot this scheme later in 2021.
Arrivals from high-risk countries will continue to require 14 days in quarantine.
New Zealand is also likely to require additional testing prior to departure and on arrival, and require non-citizen arrivals to be vaccinated.
New Zealand’s COVID vaccine eligibility
- Over-55s, at-risk groups Now
- Over-50s August 13
- Over-40s August 18
- Over-30s August 25
- Under-30s September 1