The Elimination Strategy, Aotearoa New Zealand’s sustained approach to keep it out, find it and stamp it out, is continually evolving to keep New Zealanders safe from COVID-19. This has become increasingly important as the country carefully engages more closely with the world.
New Zealand’s Elimination Strategy has maintained freedoms and a quality of life for New Zealanders in the face of COVID-19 that few other countries have enjoyed.
The vaccination programme is a critical element of building protection against the virus in the community and eventually of allowing safe reconnection with other countries. Reconnecting more fully with the world entails greater risk that the virus will enter New Zealand. While vaccination will help reduce the risk of incursions it won’t be enough in itself to protect all New Zealanders, as not everyone will be vaccinated.
To prevent widespread infections New Zealand will need to maintain some form of border controls and public health measures alongside high uptake of vaccination, to ensure that any outbreaks are swiftly contained even when the virus enters New Zealand. Our Elimination Strategy has proved its worth and remains an achievable goal even when current border restrictions are eased.
Vaccination of New Zealanders is increasingly expanding protection from COVID-19 primarily from our border defences, to using a combination of border settings, vaccination and public health measures to keep the public safe from COVID-19. As our domestic vaccination rollout progresses it will increase our layers of protection and will open up opportunities to change our border settings safely.
Our COVID-19 response has protected lives; as we start to reconnect, we will do so in a way that is consistent with the goals of our Elimination Strategy. This means continuing to keep New Zealanders safe from COVID-19 by stamping out new cases when they arise, but over time vaccination is likely to reduce our reliance on higher Alert Levels.
Since the previous version of the Elimination Strategy (May 2020), there have been a number of key shifts in our understanding of the virus and its impacts, including:
In response to these changes, the Elimination Strategy’s four pillars - border management, detection and surveillance, quarantine, and community support - have been updated to ensure the strategy remains fit for purpose. The revised four-pillar framework is described below.
Honouring Te Tiriti O Waitangi obligations and upholding equity principles continue to underpin the Elimination Strategy. This is to ensure that Māori, Pasifika, and other higher-risk communities or individuals are protected, and that the burden of combatting the virus and its impacts does not fall too heavily on certain communities or groupings.
Border settings and the managed isolation and quarantine system are key components of the “Keep It Out” element of the Elimination Strategy; designed to keep COVID-19 out of the New Zealand community and prevent onward transmission of COVID-19 from New Zealand to other countries (e.g. in the South Pacific) in the instance New Zealand were to have COVID-19 in the community.
As at August 2021, the Ministry uses the following border and managed isolation and quarantine settings:
The success of stamping out previous outbreaks has helped to inform how we continue to ‘Prepare for It.’ The key risk we are attempting to mitigate within the ‘Prepare For It’ Pillar is undetected cases of COVID-19 in the community. The measures within this pillar centre on the Ministry’s surveillance strategy, testing plan, and the following baseline public health measures:
The 'Stamp It Out’ Pillar encompasses contact tracing and case management to eliminate COVID-19 as quickly and efficiently as possible from the community, and the activation of higher Alert Levels to contain the spread of any incursion. The key components are:
The Ministry continues to review and build COVID-19 system readiness and capacity across the health and disability system, and to ensure Te Tiriti of Waitangi obligations and equity are maintained. In addition, the Ministry is committed to continuous improvement to strengthen preparedness and readiness.
Plans are in place to protect New Zealand against future outbreaks, acknowledging that:
In addition, the Ministry continues to look at new and emerging evidence around vaccine effectiveness to assess how this may play into reconnecting New Zealand with the world.