New alternative doesn’t halt plans to reopen New Zealand
Wellington The emergence of an omicron variant has not altered New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move the nation into a new, more open phase of its response to the pandemic, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus shutdown that began in August.
Across the country, a new “traffic light” system will put an end to lockdowns, but people will need to be fully vaccinated to ensure participation in anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.
New Zealand on Sunday imposed travel restrictions from nine South African countries in response to the Omicron threat. Ardern said she doesn’t expect any other restrictions.
She said that as the new variant is studied further, New Zealand will continue to do basic things like tracing contacts, isolating infected people and requiring mask use in some settings.
Ardern said Auckland and some other parts of the North Island will introduce a new traffic light system under red light, due to outbreaks of disease or low vaccination rates. Other parts of the country will come under orange light.
She said the past few months may have been the most difficult the country has faced since the pandemic began, but the sacrifices of many have helped stabilize the outbreak in Auckland while vaccination rates have improved.
“We’ve been through Covid for the past two years in better shape than almost anywhere in the world,” Ardern said, noting the low death rates, the growing economy and high vaccination rates.
The traffic light system is designed to indicate where an outbreak is putting pressure on the health system. The green categorization imposes few restrictions, the orange requires more mask-wearing and spacing, and the red limits collection sizes.
Ardern in October set an ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 90% of all eligible people in each of the 20 health districts before transitioning to the new system.
But with around 85% of New Zealanders aged 12 and over having their full vaccinations, Ardern decided it was time to make the move.
And the government announced last week that the nation will reopen its borders to the world over the coming months, allowing the return of displaced residents from January and tourists from April.
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