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New Zealanders are grieving for the end of the country’s Covid elimination strategy and anxious about what the future holds, after prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would switch to a suppression approach.

New Zealand has held fast to a Covid-zero strategy for the past 18 months. That has been rewarded with some of the world’s best outcomes through the pandemic: extremely low hospitalisations and deaths, little in the way of day to day restrictions, low unemployment and robust economic survival. But on Monday, almost two months into a Delta outbreak, the country stepped into the unknown, pivoting for the first time away from strict elimination despite vaccination rates that remain low.

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New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announces plans for easing of Auckland’s Covid-19 restrictions during a press conference on 4 October, 2021. Photograph: Mark Mitchell/Getty Images