NZ queries virus approach as Delta outbreak grows

Wellington: New Zealand conceded its ambitious "Covid zero" elimination strategy may no longer be viable Sunday, as an outbreak of the virulent Delta variant continued to spread.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins reported a further 21 cases in a virus cluster that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run of no local cases and sparking a national lockdown.

Hipkins said Delta's highly transmissible nature was making this outbreak more difficult to contain than others, raising "big questions" about the elimination strategy.

"The scale of infectiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put our system under strain," he told TVNZ.

New Zealand's widely praised Covid-19 response -- which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million -- centres on eliminating the virus from the community.

It has relied on strict border controls backed by hard lockdowns when any cases do slip through, but Hipkins said Delta may force a rethink.

"(Delta's) like nothing we've dealt with before in this pandemic," he said.

"It does change everything, it means that all of our existing preparations begin to look less adequate and raises some pretty big questions about the future of our long-term plans." - AFP