New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her administration’s “COVID zero” strategy amid concerns that the highly-transmissible Delta variant cannot be dealt with the elimination strategy. Ardern’s defense came after one COVID-19 case was reported in Auckland last week after nearly six months of no local transmission. New Zealand was one of the world’s last COVID-free zones.

That one COVID-19 infection has since ballooned into the largest disease cluster New Zealand has recorded in course of the entire pandemic, with 277 cases. Despite the high-transmissibility of the variant, the New Zealand prime minister believes that the Delta strain too can be stamped out like New Zealand did the original strain. She added that experts and health officials in New Zealand have advised her to stick to the approach.

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“In their view, it’s not only possible, it remains the best strategy and I totally agree with it,” Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday. Strongly defending the strategy, the New Zealand prime minister reminded that the country of 5 million people had seen only 26 deaths during the pandemic.

According to Ardern, the change in strategy in light of the Delta variant spreading the disease entails quicker and more effective national lockdowns. She added that New Zealand could examine alternative policies too when vaccination rates improve. New Zealand currently has among the lowest vaccination rates in the world with less than 20% of the population inoculated.  

But despite the New Zealand prime minister’s expression of confidence, her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison disagrees. Earlier this week, Scott Morrison said that it was “just absurd” to try to eliminate Delta, adding: “New Zealand can’t do that”.

Scott Morrison’s administration too attempted the COVID zero strategy for 18 months in Australia, but big Delta variant outbreaks in several parts of the country has forced officials to attempt a more containment-centric policy.

Australia is seeing severe COVID-19 outbreaks over the last month. Hospitals in Sydney are close to full and have had to set up emergency tents. The lockdowns have had a severe impact on people’s livelihoods and anti-lockdown protests have broken out in several regions of the country.