Auckland lockdown ends as New Zealand tries to tackle new virus

Auckland lockdown ends as New Zealand tries to tackle new virus

Wellington Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from early December, but customers will be required to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The announcement removes the last vestiges of the lockdown that began in the country’s largest city in August. It also marks a new phase in New Zealand’s response to the pandemic, where people across the country will need to be fully vaccinated in order to participate in anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.

Ardern said New Zealand will transition to a new pandemic “traffic light” system that relies on the use of vaccine passports from late December 2.

The order would mark an end to the lockdowns that New Zealand used so effectively to completely stamp out virus outbreaks during the first 18 months of the pandemic, but which failed to stem the August outbreak of the more contagious delta variant.

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Ardern last month set an ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 90% of all eligible people in every 20 health zones before switching to the new system.

But even though vaccination rates will fall below that target by early December, Ardern said it was time to take the step anyway. About 83% of New Zealanders aged 12 or older are currently vaccinated, but the rate in some health areas is as low as 73%.

The government faced increasingly hostile protests against vaccination requirements and epidemiological restrictions. Opinion polls show support for Ardern and her Liberal government waning since they won the election by a landslide just over a year ago, although they remain more popular than their conservative opponents.

The current outbreak appears to have stabilized somewhat with around 200 new infections reported each day, mostly in Auckland. About 85 New Zealanders are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and the country has reported just 40 deaths from the virus from a population of 5 million since the pandemic began.

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“The bitter truth is that Delta is here and it is not going away,” Ardern said. “And while no country has yet been able to completely eradicate the delta once it arrives, New Zealand is in a better position than most countries to deal with it.”

The traffic light system is designed to indicate where an outbreak is putting pressure on the health system. Green classification may impose few restrictions, orange will require more mask wearing and spacing, while red will limit collection sizes even with vaccination certificates. Ardern said Auckland will initially enter the new system under red light, while other areas will enter under red or orange.

Opposition MP David Seymour, who leads the libertarian ACT party, said the government should have reopened sooner, but has been running late in order for the vaccine passport system to be operational.

Ardern had previously announced that the borders around Auckland that kept most people from leaving the city would be removed on December 15, allowing Aucklanders to travel over the Christmas holiday period, but it raised concerns some health experts would spread the virus. More quickly across the country.

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