New Zealand’s shift to a vaccine certificate system — or “Freedom Day” — is set for December 3.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday announced the formal end to the country’s much-lauded elimination strategy will take place in just under two weeks.
From then, New Zealanders must be vaccinated to access public amenities like gyms, restaurants and museums, leaving unvaccinated Kiwis shut out.
The change will be most keenly felt by Aucklanders, who have been in lockdown since August 17.
“The hard truth is that Delta is here and it is not going away,” Ms Ardern said.
“Setting the date now gives people, communities and businesses time to prepare to move safely and smoothly into the new traffic light system.”
She hopes the move will improve Kiwi vaccination rates.
Currently 83 per cent of eligible Kiwis — those aged 12 and over — are fully vaccinated, and 91 per cent have had one jab.
Those figures are worse for Maori, with vax rates of 64 per cent fully vaccinated and 79 with one jab.
NZ recorded 205 community cases on Monday and one death, a man in his 40s at Auckland’s Manukau Hospital.
Despite the relatively high case count, there are signs the ight against the Delta variant could be morphing from an Auckland-centric outbreak into a series of smaller clusters around the country.
“Things are looking like they’re stabilising in Auckland,” Dr Shaun Hendy, a COVID-19 modeler at cross-university research group Te Punaha Matatini, told Radio NZ.
“The R number, the effective reproductive number of the virus, has been trending down and is maybe somewhere near one.
“That’s largely because of the good vaccination rate we’ve achieved in Auckland.”
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield shared his optimism.
“Through last week, the hospital admissions and ICU bed numbers were not increasing. They dropped towards the end of the week. It is a really good sign,” he said.
Still, cases are being picked up in a clutch of different cities and townships around North Island.
Aside from Auckland, Northland and the Waikato, where COVID-19 has been present for months, the Bay of Plenty, the Wairarapa, Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay now have active cases.
Monday’s case count included 20 more cases in the Waikato, while the Tauranga cluster, with 17 active cases in a few days, looks worrisome.
On December 15, the government will remove the border around Auckland, which is likely to see further spread.
“Not all regions are at the same level of vaccination as Auckland. Once Aucklanders do leave that’s potentially exposing populations that aren’t as well protected,” Dr Hendy said.
“That could lead to further small outbreaks in the regions.”
Some regional groups, including Maori, say they don’t want Aucklanders heading to their regions this summer, fearing the virus seeping into their regions.
Ms Ardern said she wanted Kiwis to be able to travel to “reconnect with family and friends”.
“Ideally we want people to be vaccinated when they do that. And if they’re from Auckland and they’re unvaccinated, we want them tested,” she said.