New Zealand's next major challenge in its fight against COVID-19 is implementing a successful vaccine roll-out, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.
In an editorial piece written for the New Zealand Medical Journal, Bloomfield said the country also needs to keep up its successful elimination strategy.
New Zealand's response to the pandemic of 'going hard and going early' and imposing a strict lockdown in March last year has largely been lauded by other countries as a successful strategy.
Bloomfield said continuing this and keeping the virus out of New Zealand in 2021 was a major priority.
He said work had been done to look at "a more nuanced risk-based approach to relaxing controls at the border." But the new varients of COVID-19 from the UK and South Africa had led to more restrictions - such as pre-flight testing - to be implemented.
The other major challenge for 2021 is the roll out of the four different vaccines New Zealand has on order.
Bloomfield said work was underway on planning the roll out and the aim was to achieve herd immunity through vaccinations.
"Initially vaccination will protect most of those who receive one or other vaccine (New Zealand has four different vaccines on order), and later in the year we would hope to achieve sufficient coverage for population (‘herd’) immunity."
Putting the country into two lockdowns in 2020 was a tough decision, but a necessary one and Bloomfield said most New Zealanders supported those efforts.
He said Kiwis must continue to get behind the fight against COVID-19 and clear communication from the Ministry of Health and Government were key to achieving that.
"Ongoing clear and consistent communication needs to continue, particularly to build and maintain public trust and confidence in COVID-19 vaccination."