COVID-19: A breakdown of how NZ's once-successful elimination strategy ended, conceding defeat to the Delta variant

This time last year, New Zealanders were enjoying a summer free of any COVID-19 cases in the community - having successfully stamped the virus out.

Even in April of 2021, the world was in awe of New Zealand after photos of Aucklanders crammed into a concert by Kiwi band Six60 went viral. The concert was later dubbed the biggest in the world since the pandemic emerged in March 2020. 

At the same time, other parts of the world were being ravaged by COVID-19. The UK, for example, was in the midst of its third national lockdown - with restrictions only being fully lifted in July.

But something changed for New Zealand on August 17, 2021. After months of catching cases of the highly-infectious Delta variant at the border, it finally made its way into the community. 

Since then, COVID-19 has never been successfully eliminated. How Delta leaked into the community remains unknown, although the original community case was linked to an Australian returnee in a managed isolation hotel in Auckland. 

Here's how New Zealand's Delta outbreak unfolded - a wave of infections that would end our once-acclaimed elimination strategy.

August 17

The first community case of COVID-19 in 170 days is reported in Auckland. Officials would later announce a snap alert level 4 lockdown to try and stop the virus from spreading in the community.

August 24

The Ministry of Health reports 41 infections in the community a week on from the lockdown being announced. By this stage, the virus has spread out of Auckland to Wellington. 


September 1: Restrictions ease for most of New Zealand and regions outside of Auckland and Northland - where community transmission is confined to - move to alert level 3. The Super City and Northland remain in level 4. 

Auckland's daily COVID-19 case count hovers around 50.

September 4: A woman in her 90s becomes New Zealand's first death from the Delta variant of COVID-19. The country's daily case count, however, drops to 20 - all recorded in Auckland. 

September 7: Twenty-one new cases of COVID-19 are reported after three consecutive days of 20.

September 8: Restrictions are lifted further for more than 3 million New Zealanders. Auckland remains locked down.

September 13: Auckland's alert level 4 lockdown is again extended, the same day the Super City reported 33 new cases. 

September 19: There are 24 new cases in the community - a day before the Government is due to announce whether restrictions will ease in Auckland. By this stage, the Super City has been under the most stringent lockdown for five weeks. 

September 20: The PM announces restrictions will ease in Auckland, the same day 22 community cases are reported. 

September 21: Infringement fees for breaching COVID-19 rules are increased by the Government. 

September 22: Aucklanders breathe a sigh of relief as an easing of restrictions comes into effect and the city moves to alert level 3. On the same day, 23 cases are reported and health officials concede total elimination may not happen again

However, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins insists the Government is continuing to pursue its elimination strategy of a "zero tolerance" for cases.

September 28: Nearly a week after restrictions were eased in Auckland, cases jump to 45 - up from just 12 the previous day. Health officials describe the spike as "sobering" but not "unexpected". 


October 3: COVID-19 spreads outside of Auckland to Waikato and parts of the region are locked down to help contain the spread

October 4: The day arrives. The Government abandons New Zealand's long-standing strategy of eliminating COVID-19 as Delta continues to linger in Auckland. 

On the same day, the Government unveiled a roadmap to slowly ease COVID-19 restrictions in the Super City. 

October 9: COVID-19 infections continue to spike. Sixty are reported on this day, the bulk still in Auckland but a few in Waikato and a case is also detected in the Bay of Plenty. 

October 11: The Government announces it will require teachers and critical health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

October 14: Another rise in cases is reported - 71, all in Auckland. It's the biggest increase in six weeks. 

October 18: Auckland's lockdown is again extended and another 60 community cases are reported. 

October 19: Ninety-four cases are recorded, New Zealand's highest daily case total since the beginning of the pandemic. 

October 20: The Government announces plans for some Auckland students to return to school. 

October 21: New Zealand records more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time. 

October 22: The Government unveils its new COVID Protection Framework or 'traffic light system' - the system under which we currently live that involves the widespread use of vaccine passes. 

October 23: The South Island reports its first community case of COVID-19 in nearly a year and another 104 infections are recorded

October 30: A record of 160 infections are reported and experts warn New Zealanders to expect those numbers to keep increasing. 


November 1: The Government announces a slight easing of restrictions in Auckland and Waikato. 

November 2: Northern areas of the Northland region are plunged into a snap lockdown after two unlinked cases are detected. 

November 6: There were 206 new cases in the community on this day - the first time our daily infection count crossed 200. 

November 8: Despite record numbers of cases (190 on this day), the Government announces plans to further ease restrictions in Auckland - allowing retail stores to reopen. By this stage, vaccination rates in the Super City are well and truly ramping up - with 90 percent of eligible residents having at least one dose. 

November 10: Auckland is granted some respite after 12 long weeks of lockdown with restrictions easing further - albeit slightly. The easing allowed retailers to open and social gatherings of 25 in outdoor settings. 

November 22: The Government announces all of New Zealand will move to the traffic light system imminently.

November 24: Plans to slowly reopen New Zealand's international border and reconnect with Australia from the middle of January are announced. On the same day, a new COVID-19 variant - now known as Omicron - is reported to the World Health Organization after being found in South Africa

November 26: The Government announces a $1 billion investment into a new testing and contact tracing strategy as it looks to deal with more COVID cases in the community. 

November 29: Cabinet announces traffic light settings for each region as it prepares to end lockdowns. 

December 3: 'Freedom Day' arrives and New Zealand leaves lockdowns behind - transitioning from COVID-19 alert levels to the traffic light system. Aucklanders can finally visit hospitality venues after 107 days in lockdown. 

December 7: Cases drop below 100 but experts warn infections could rise now Auckland is released from lockdown. By this stage, there are cases scattered throughout the North Island and a small cluster in Nelson. 

December 15: Auckland's border reopens, allowing domestic travel in and out of the region for the first time in months. 

December 16: The Ministry of Health confirms New Zealand's first Omicron case - in a Christchurch managed isolation facility.

December 21: The Government delays border reopening plans - now reconnecting with Australia at the end of February instead of January. Booster shot wait times are also cut from six months to four. 

December 28: Daily COVID-19 cases drop to just 18. There are 54 cases of Omicron in the country - all found in MIQ.

The variant continues to run rampant across the world but has yet to leak into New Zealand's community.

By this stage, 91 percent of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 94 percent have had at least one dose. 

December 29: Just when we thought we'd get through the New Year without Omicron, the Ministry of Health reveals a person who tested positive for the new variant was active in the community. 

The case is later revealed to be British DJ Dimension, AKA Robert Etheridge. He arrived on a flight from the UK on December 16 and after three negative tests in managed isolation and was allowed to complete his final three days in self-isolation.

But he wait for his negative day nine test result before leaving self-isolation, as required, and went on to visit multiple venues including a nightclub. 

December 30: So far no more Omicron cases have resulted from the person who tested positive for the new variant in Auckland. To be continued…