New Zealand has announced the lifting of vaccine mandates for a number of sectors, including education and policing, from April 4, as the current COVID-19 outbreak approaches its peak.
- Only New Zealanders working with vulnerable people should be vaccinated from 4 April
- Vaccine cards will no longer be mandatory for visits to restaurants and cafes
- The announcement comes after protests against vaccine mandates in Wellington earlier this month
New Zealand’s response to the pandemic won praise abroad and kept hospitalizations and deaths at a low level.
But public anger over persistent domestic restrictions has grown and reached a climax earlier this month during violent protests outside the nation’s parliament in Wellington.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said only those working with vulnerable people, such as the elderly and health sectors and frontier workers, should be vaccinated from 4 April.
Vaccine cards would also no longer be mandatory for visiting restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces, she added.
“With more tools and one of the highest vaccinated populations in the world, we are able to continue to move safely forward,” Ms Ardern said as she announced the lifting of most mandates.
More than 95 percent of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 has now received two vaccinations.
But with more than 500,000 confirmed cases – and about 17,000 new infections a day – in the country of 5 million, the virus is now widespread.
Ms Ardern said that with the peak of the outbreak in Auckland now passed – and the rest of the country expected to see infections peak before April 5 – mandates could soon be lifted.
“Once our cases come down, it’s time to take our next step with confidence in the collective immunity and protection we have built,” she said.
The move comes a week after the government announced it would open borders to Australians from April 12 – and those on visa waiver programs from May.
The changes mean that many restrictions will be gone when international visitors return to New Zealand.
Before the pandemic, international tourism accounted for about 20 percent of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 percent of GDP.
From Friday, New Zealand will remove the limit of 100 people for outdoor audiences, allowing for the resumption of some concerts and major sporting events such as the marathon.
An indoor limit of 100 people will be raised to 200 people and any restrictions may soon be removed completely.
Wires / ABC