NEW ZEALAND Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted the country's 'zero-covid' approach has failed following a stubborn outbreak of the Delta variant.
Ms Ardern had championed the policy ever since the start of the pandemic, but has now been forced to adopt a new approach amid rising infection rates.
Her government announced a cautious plan to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland, despite an outbreak there that continues to simmer.
Ardern said the strategy wouldn't be dumped in one big go, but that freedoms would gradually be handed back to citizens, and reviewed on a weekly basis.
From Wednesday, people in Aukland can also meet in groups of up to 10 people, and a full reopening of shops and school is being considered.
The rest of the country was allowed out of lockdown in early September.
New Zealand's 'zero-covid' policy - an approach which aims to completely eliminate Covid-19 from the country by way of strict border control, frequent use of lockdowns, and aggressive contact tracing - generally appeared to be working during the first half of the pandemic.
Geography was a big help, but the approach led to just 27 covid-related deaths in a country of 5 million.
But despite going into the strictest form of lockdown after just a single local case was detected, it ultimately wasn't enough to crush the outbreak entirely, and Ardern has been forced to make a u-turn.
"It’s clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases," she told reporters on Monday.
Ardern claims that a zero-covid policy was necessary at first because New Zealand didn't have any vaccines.
"Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things," she said.
Ms Ardern described the more transmissible Delta variant as a "game changer", which ultimate forced her to change her thinking.