New Zealand will abandon its long-touted effortTo eliminate COVID-19 cases across the country amid an ongoing epidemic of highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that the capital, Auckland, would end its more than three-month lockdown in early December and the country would institute a three-tier “traffic light” system that will give broader freedoms to fully vaccinated people.
The use of vaccine passports will determine the basis for traffic lights. Green designations will allow for limited restrictions. This means that schools, retailers, and hotels are all open without any limits. A orange designation is close to the normal lifestyle, but there are some restrictions for businesses and mask requirements. Red designations will allow you to work from home, but also permit retail sales and gatherings of the vaccinated within certain limits.
This is the move a dramatic shift for New ZealandThe COVID elimination method was renowned for its ability to quickly and effectively stop pandemics. This changed when the delta variant spread, first spreading in August among 5 million people. Ardern’s government has also faced increasing protests amid the restrictions and calls from opposition lawmakers to end the lockdown system.
“The hard truth is that delta is here and it is not going away,” Ardern said on Monday. “And while no country to date has been able to eliminate delta completely once it’s arrived, New Zealand is in a better position than most to tackle it.”
Auckland, which will likely begin the new traffic light system under a “red” designation, will remain cut off from the rest of the country until Dec. 15. Residents will then be allowed to travel during the Christmas holidays if they possess a vaccination passport or have passed a negative blood test. Aucklanders, starting January 17, will have the right to travel without restrictions.
Quarantine requirements will remain 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 until the end of the year.
“Our hands are tied until border restrictions ease, and we receive further clarity from the New Zealand government,” Leanne Geraghty, a chief customer and sales officer for the airline, toldAgence France Presse.
Ardern had initially planned to move to the traffic light system when it reached a 90% double-dose vaccination rate for eligible residents, a figure that hasn’t been reached. The prime minister however stated it was time for the country to get vaccinated as 83% have been vaccinated.
According to the Associated Press, there are approximately 200 new infections per day in New Zealand. Most of these occur in Auckland. Only 40 deaths have been caused by COVID-19 in New Zealand since the start of the pandemic.