(Corrects date to Jan 19)
WELLINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Tuesday that it was looking to secure a small batch of COVID-19 vaccines early to protect its high-risk workers, as pressure mounts on the government to vaccinate its population.
A tough lockdown and the geographic advantage of being at the bottom of the world helped New Zealand virtually eliminate the novel coronavirus within its borders.
But with the pandemic raging globally, more people are returning to New Zealand with infections including the new variants from the U.K. and South Africa, raising concerns the virus may spread in the community again.
“We are exploring some possibilities as to whether we can get a smaller number of vaccines earlier to vaccinate our at-risk workers, our border workers…,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a news conference.
The government said it had secured enough vaccines to inoculate all of the country’s 5 million people, but they have to be cleared for use by the local medical authority.
Vaccination drives have begun in dozens of countries including the United States, India and China, but New Zealand has said the majority of its population would only be vaccinated in the second half of 2021.
Critics have slammed the government, saying New Zealand has fallen behind the rest of the world.
“The government has said manufacturers are focused on sending vaccinations to countries where thousands of people are dying every day, pushing New Zealand further down the queue,” opposition National Party leader Judith Collins said in a statement.
“But that argument doesn’t wash when Singapore, who last recorded a Covid-19 death in November, has already begun vaccinating border workers,” she added.
The government announced on Tuesday that pre-departure testing was being made mandatory for all travellers to New Zealand except from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands.
There are 85 active cases in New Zealand, all returning travellers who are being quarantined at the border. The country’s had no community cases for two months. (Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)
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