New Zealand recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Tuesday as a Delta-variant outbreak that dashed the nation’s “Covid Zero” hopes showed no signs of easing.
Health authorities announced 94 new virus cases, exceeding the previous daily record of 89 set in April last year during the first wave of Covid-19 infections.
While case numbers remain low by most international standards, they have been steadily growing since the highly transmissible Delta variant was first found in New Zealand in mid-August.
The outbreak, centered on Auckland, has forced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to drop her core policy goal of eliminating the virus in favor of ramping up vaccination efforts.
The center-left leader is set to unveil a new strategy on Friday that will allow for greater freedoms once vaccination targets have been reached.
About two-thirds of the eligible population have now been fully inoculated.
“We know that vaccinations are already making a significant difference to the outbreak in Auckland, but so too are people following the rules,” Ardern told reporters.
Before the arrival of Delta, New Zealand won widespread praise for its hardline approach, which involved strict lockdowns, rigorous contact tracing and tight border restrictions.
The measures paid off, with only 28 deaths in a population of five million and domestic life near normal for long periods.
But Ardern has conceded Delta was a “game-changer,” spreading at a rate too fast for contract tracers to keep up.