News Coronavirus COVID-cautious New Zealand eases virus restrictions

COVID-cautious New Zealand eases virus restrictions

New Zealand COVID
Jacinda Ardern says now is the time to support New Zealand's exporters, despite COVID travel risks. Photo: AAP
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New Zealand is removing vaccine passes as it considers further relaxing COVID-19 restrictions beyond the Omicron wave.

From 11.59 pm on Monday, Kiwis will no longer require a vaccine passport to enter many businesses or attend events.

New Zealand also scrapped the need to “scan in” at venues and ditched controversial vaccine mandates in several sectors, though they remain in health and disability settings, at prisons and for border workers.

The move is a major change for COVID-cautious New Zealand, which has been championed for its tough controls to curb transmission of the virus.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cautioned Kiwis against seeing it as the end of the pandemic, saying restrictions could return.

“This will be our first wave and not our only wave. This is our current variant and not our only variant,” she told Radio NZ.

The changes come ahead of next week’s border reopening to Australia, which will allow non-New Zealanders to enter the country without quarantining for the first time since the trans-Tasman bubble ended last July.

Ms Ardern’s government will on Monday discuss moving parts of the country — including Auckland and Wellington — down on the traffic light-themed restriction system.

The whole of New Zealand is currently at the “red” setting, which caps gathering sizes and imposes tough restrictions on hospitality businesses.

However, public health experts believe New Zealand’s Omicron wave has peaked, mounting a case to move to “orange”.

Cases peaked in March at more than 20,000 cases a day, but the national seven-day case average is now at 13,543.

COVID-19 hospitalisations are also down from a high of 1000 last month to currently sit at 690.

The dips are more pronounced in Auckland, which peaked earlier in the Omicron wave, making New Zealand’s biggest city a prime candidate for an easing of restrictions, according to Ms Ardern.

“When it comes to where we are, red or orange, we know we’ve peaked in Auckland … (it) looks like the same in the Wellington area,” she told TVNZ.

“There are other parts of the country where that’s not quite the case.”

COVID-19 modeller Michael Plank said New Zealand was not yet ready to remove all COVID-19 rules.

“It’s a good approach to not get rid of all our public health measures in one go, as some countries have done, because that does create a risk that you get a big rebound, and a second wave,” he told Radio NZ.

The Omicron wave has also delivered a brutal death toll for New Zealand. At the beginning of March, 76 people had died with COVID-19 during the entire pandemic.

That figure now stands at 396 and will continue to rise, with the seven-day rolling average at 20 deaths per day.