Containment or vaccines? 3 Pacific countries attempt divergent paths | National policy
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Cheryl Simpson was supposed to celebrate her 60th birthday over lunch with friends, but instead found herself confined to her Auckland home.
The discovery of a single local case of COVID-19 in New Zealand was enough for the government to put the entire country in strict containment last week. While others might see it as draconian, New Zealanders generally support such measures because they have worked so well in the past.
“I’m happy to go into lockdown, although I don’t like it,” said Simpson, owner of a dog day care center that is now closed due to precautions. She said she wanted the country to crush the latest epidemic: “I would like to hit the bloody thing on the head.”
Elsewhere in the Pacific, however, Japan is resisting such measures in the face of a record wave, focusing instead on accelerating its vaccination program. And Australia fell somewhere in the middle.
The three countries have gone through the first year of the pandemic in fairly good shape, but are now taking divergent paths to deal with outbreaks of the delta variant, the highly contagious form that has contributed to a growing feeling that the coronavirus cannot. be eradicated, just managed.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said countries around the world were struggling to adapt to the latest threat: “With the delta variant, the old rules don’t work everything. simply not.
The different focus on blockages versus vaccines – and how effective these strategies are in fending off the delta variant – could have far-reaching consequences for the economies of the three countries and the health of their citizens.
Japan has never imposed containment against the coronavirus. The public is wary of government excesses after the country’s fascist period before and during World War II, and Japan’s post-war constitution provides strict protections for civil liberties.
Prior to the delta variant, the country had been successful in bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control in part because many people in Japan were already used to wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from spring allergies or when catching a cold.
Now almost everyone on public transport wears a mask during commuting hours. But late at night, people tend to uncover each other in restaurants and bars, which allowed the variant to spread. Hosting the Tokyo Olympics didn’t help either.
While strict protocols have kept infections inside the games to a minimum, experts such as Dr Shigeru Omi, a key government medical adviser, say the Olympics created an air of celebration that drove the Japanese to let your guard down.
New cases in Japan have jumped this month to 25,000 every day, more than triple the previous highest peak. Omi considers this a disaster.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday extended and extended the state of emergency covering Tokyo and other areas until at least mid-September, although most of the restrictions are not legally enforceable.
Many governors are urging the prime minister to consider much stricter restrictions. But Suga said blockades have been broken around the world and vaccines are “the way forward.”
Daily vaccinations in Japan increased tenfold from May to June as thousands of construction sites and universities began offering vaccines, but a slow start left the country catching up. Only about 40% of people are fully vaccinated.
In Australia, a delta epidemic hit Sydney in June, after an unvaccinated limousine driver was infected while carrying a crew of U.S. cargo from Sydney Airport. State officials hesitated for 10 days before imposing lockdown measures across Sydney which have now dragged on for two months.
At the start of the pandemic, the Australian federal government imposed only one nationwide lockdown. Now, in the midst of the delta outbreak, he’s pursuing a strategy he calls aggressive removal – including tight controls on Australians leaving the country and foreigners entering – but essentially letting heads of state take the lead. .
New infections in Sydney have risen from a few a week before the last outbreak to over 800 a day.
“It is not possible to eliminate it completely. We have to learn to live with it, ”said Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of the State of New South Wales in Sydney, in what many have interpreted as a significant step back from the resolve with which state leaders have previously been shown to completely crush epidemics.
“This is why we have a dual strategy in New South Wales,” said Berejiklian. “Reduce the number of cases, increase the vaccination rates. We have to achieve both in order to be able to live freely in the future.”
The epidemic in Sydney has spread to the capital, Canberra, which has also been stranded. Government employee Matina Carbone wore a mask when shopping on Friday.
“I don’t know if anyone is really going to beat Delta,” she said. “I think we just have to try and increase our immunization rates and slowly open things up when we think it’s safe to do so.”
But Australia is far behind even Japan when it comes to vaccinating people, with just 23% of people fully vaccinated.
Last year, shortly after the start of the pandemic, neighboring New Zealand imposed a strict national lockdown and closed its border to non-residents. This completely wiped out the virus. The country of 5 million people has been able to beat every epidemic since, recording just 26 deaths from the virus.
It went on for six months without a single locally spread case, allowing people to go about their daily lives as before the pandemic.
But this month, the Sydney outbreak spread to New Zealand, carried by a returning traveler.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly imposed the most stringent form of lockdown.
As of Sunday, the number of locally spread cases in New Zealand had risen to 72 and the virus had reached the capital, Wellington. Authorities rushed to locate 10,000 more people who may have been exposed.
Ardern has been unwavering.
“We’ve been here before. We know the elimination strategy works. Cases go up, then they fall, until we run out of them,” she said. “It’s tried and true. We just have to hold on.”
Baker, the epidemiologist, said he believes it is still possible for New Zealand to wipe out the virus again by continuing the “burning embers” approach of taking drastic action to eradicate the virus. first sign of an epidemic.
New Zealand doesn’t have much of a Plan B. A recent report by expert government advisers noted that the country has relatively few intensive care hospital beds and said an epidemic could quickly overwhelm the healthcare system. health.
And New Zealand was the slowest developed country to fire, with just 20% of people fully vaccinated.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo and McGuirk from Canberra, Australia.
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