(Reuters) – New Zealand’s 206 new daily community infections on Saturday carried it past the double-hundred mark for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, as the nation scrambles to vaccinate its population of 5 million.
The most populous city of Auckland, which reported 200 of the new cases, has lived under COVID-19 curbs for nearly three months as it battles an outbreak of the infectious Delta variant, although restrictions are expected to ease on Monday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted Auckland residents to be able to travel for the southern hemisphere summer and Christmas.
“We will not keep Aucklanders isolated to Auckland through that period – we simply cannot do that,” Ardern told a news conference at the national gathering of her Labour Party.
Saturday’s cases served to remind people of the importance of vaccination as the number one protection against the virus, the health ministry said in a statement.
It said 78% of New Zealanders aged 12 and above had been fully vaccinated, while 89% had a first dose by Friday.
Once praised globally for stamping out COVID-19, New Zealand has been unable to vanquish the Delta outbreak in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon a strategy of eliminating the virus in favour of efforts to live with it.
Still, it has fared far better than many other countries, with tough curbs that kept infections to just under 7,000 and a toll of 31 deaths.