Government outlines plans for future COVID-19 variants

“The Government has undertaken preparatory work to combat new and more dangerous variants of COVID-19,” COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall set out today.

“This is about being ready to adapt our response, especially knowing that new variants will likely continue to appear.

“We have undertaken a piece of work to look at possible scenarios for the evolution of the pandemic. This is to ensure there is more certainty for New Zealanders for how we would respond to future variants.

“I want to be clear, lockdowns and other strict measures will be a last resort. Our starting position will be more target measures aimed to protect the most vulnerable while also avoiding wider societal disruption.

“We already have a much stronger base of protection measures in place such as access to vaccinations and anti-viral drugs, our PCR testing capacity, contact tracing system and an integrated surveillance system. These reduce our need to use more stringent measures.

“This is part of our All-of-Government response to COVID-19, with agencies assessing their preparedness to deploy measures and undertake ongoing activity to ensure they can be activated rapidly in the future.

“Preparedness planning doesn’t commit us to following a set path should a different variant of COVID-19 emerge, it is about maintaining the capabilities to respond to a range of possible scenarios.

New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to date has been based on strong public health advice and characterised by a willingness to adapt and learn in response to the evolving nature of the virus.

Our ongoing surveillance for new variants, especially at the border keep us in a good position to identify future variants.

“Based on public health advice Ministers will continue to make decisions about how to respond in the event of new variants. This process is well established and has served our country well,” Dr Verrall said.

More information and the Ministry of Health variants of concern framework summary can be found here.