Once a model for COVID Zero, New Zealand to end takedown and lockdown effort.
New Zealand abandon your long-touted endeavor to eliminate COVID-19 cases across the country amid an ongoing outbreak of the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that Auckland would end its more than three-month lockdown in early December and that the country would institute a three-tiered “traffic light” system that would grant broader freedoms to fully vaccinated people.
The traffic light system will begin on December 2 and will be based on the use of vaccine passports. An area in a green designation will have limited restrictions, with schools, retail stores, and hospitality venues open without limits. An orange designation will be close to normal life with some mask requirements and trade restrictions. The red designation will encourage working from home, but will allow retail and public gatherings for those vaccinated with some size limits.
Vaccine certificates will be key in many places, allowing cafes, churches, hair salons, and other places to operate close to normal if they choose to use them.
Movement is a dramatic change for New Zealand, which for much of the pandemic had been a beacon of the COVID elimination method, crushing outbreaks with rapid and radical blockades. That changed with the delta variant, which began to spread in August among the population of 5 million. The Ardern government has also faced mounting protests amid restrictions and calls from opposition lawmakers to end the lockdown system.
“The harsh truth is that Delta is here and it’s not going away,” Ardern said Monday. “And while no country to date has been able to completely eliminate the delta once it has arrived, New Zealand is in a better position than most to tackle it.”
Auckland, which will likely start the new traffic light system with a “red” designation, will remain cut off from the rest of the country until December 15. After that time, residents will be able to travel during the Christmas holiday period without having a vaccine passport or a negative test. As of January 17, Auckland residents will be able to travel freely.
Quarantine requirements will remain in place for international arrivals, a move that prompted Air New Zealand, the country’s largest airline, to cancel more than 1,000 flights to neighboring Australia through the end of the year.
“Our hands are tied until border restrictions are eased and we receive more clarity from the New Zealand government,” said Leanne Geraghty, the airline’s chief customer officer and chief sales officer saying Agence France-Presse.
Ardern had initially planned to move to the stoplight system when it reached a 90% double-dose vaccination rate for eligible residents, a figure that has not been reached. However, the prime minister said it was time to move on, as around 83% of eligible people had been fully vaccinated across the country.
The Associated Press notes that there are around 200 new infections a day in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland. Only 40 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.