Once the envy of the world for its handling of the pandemic, New Zealand is now preparing its health system for an influx of COVID-19 patients as it pivots away from its elimination strategy.

Health Ministry modeling forecasts more than 5,000 cases per week in the Auckland and Northland regions next year, even 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.