(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand is preparing its health system to cope with an influx Covid-19 patients as it concedes it can’t stamp out the delta variant and begins to transition away from its elimination strategy.

Health Ministry modeling forecasts more than 5,000 cases per week in the Auckland and Northland regions next year, assuming 90% of the eligible population is vaccinated, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Thursday. The figure does not include the rest of the country, where modeling is still being conducted.

“That’s the worst-case scenario, but even at that level the vast bulk of people who would get infected would recover at home, or somewhere else in the community, because the majority will be vaccinated and won’t suffer as badly as those who are unvaccinated,” Little said in an interview with Radio New Zealand. 

New Zealand’s health system has not yet been tested by surging Covid cases, but ministers now concede a lockdown in largest city Auckland won’t beat delta and are preparing to ease restrictions as vaccination rates rise. Daily new case numbers are worsening, with 71 infections reported Thursday, the most since early September.

Little’s plan marks a pivot away from isolating all Covid patients in government quarantine facilities or hospitals. Little said he’s confident hospitals will have the capacity to cope with acute cases. 

“In terms of capacity to respond for additional patients, I’m confident that it is there and the planning is there to make sure we manage that carefully,” he told a news conference.

New Zealand had been one of the last countries in the world pursuing a Covid Zero strategy aimed at eliminating community transmission of the virus. Last week it tentatively moved away from this approach, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledging that “long periods of heavy restrictions have not gotten us to zero cases.”

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