New Zealand’s high rates of vaccination and severe lockdowns appear to be offering little protection, as a new Omicron wave gripping the country is resulting in record high death rates.
In fact, experts told Mail Online that previously low levels of infection due to strict Covid restrictions is behind the high fatality rate. Once dubbed the "hermit kingdom," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's economically-crippling measures delayed "inevitable" infections that could have built-up immunity, experts say.
There were 151 virus fatalities in the week ending July 16. The highest weekly fatalities prior to this was 115 during a March spike, Health Ministry data shows. This means the country’s current mortality rate is twice as high as the UK’s and four times higher than the US, The Daily Sceptic reports.
As of 11 pm on Thursday, the 26 Covid deaths that occurred in the previous 24 hours were among those over 60, the group most vulnerable to the virus.
The Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is driving the wave. Another 64,780 cases were confirmed last week, but authorities say the true figure will be much higher.
New Zealand was once considered a nation that largely went untouched by the virus, in part due to its swift response and geographic isolation.
In August 2021, New Zealand announced it would enter a sudden lockdown after an Auckland man tested positive for Covid, even though it was the first case in the country in six months. The nation strived for "zero Covid" and entered a national level 4 lockdown for three days, while Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula were on lockdown for seven days due to the risk of exposure from the man's travels.
In November 2021, Ardern told citizens they could start visiting family and friends' homes once again — and use the bathroom inside.
"Luxury," she said.
In March, Ardern said strict vaccine mandates were "undoubtedly" the reasons New Zealand reached a 95 percent vaccination rate for the eligible population and achieved the near-elimination of Delta over summer 2021. Vaccine mandates for some of the workforce were dropped in April.
Yet data from Oxford University-backed research platform Our World in Data show five people per million in New Zealand were dying with Covid every day in the week to July 21st — up by a third from the previous high of 3.68 in March.
During their worst periods of the pandemic, the UK and US registered 19 and 10 deaths per million, respectively. Both countries are now logging much lower death counts, at two and one deaths, respectively.