WELLINGTON -- Auckland's bars, restaurants, and gyms will reopen from December 1, but customers will need to prove they have been fully vaccinated. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, said Monday.
This announcement ends the lockdown that was in effect in the nation's biggest city in August. This announcement also marks a new phase of New Zealand's response against the pandemic. All citizens in New Zealand will have to be fully vaccinated to attend any activity, from haircutting to attending a concert.
Ardern stated that New Zealand will be moving into a pandemic "traffic lights" system, based on the use of vaccine passports starting in Dec. 2.
This system will end the New Zealand lockdowns that were used to eliminate all virus outbreaks in the first 18 months of this pandemic. However, they failed to stop an August epidemic of the more contagious Delta variant.
Ardern set a lofty goal last month to get 90% of eligible people in each of the 20 health districts fully vaccinated prior to moving on to the new system.
There have been more violent protests against vaccine requirements and restrictions on pandemics by the government. Even though they are more popular than their conservative counterparts, opinion polls indicate that support for Ardern's liberal government and her landslide victory in the election just over a decade ago has dropped.
With 200 new infections being reported every day, the current outbreak seems to have stabilized somewhat. Most of these are in Auckland. Around 85 New Zealanders have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Since the outbreak began, the country has only reported 40 deaths.
Ardern stated that "the hard truth is that Delta is here and it's not going away." "And although no country has ever been able completely eliminate delta once it has arrived, New Zealand is better equipped than most to deal with it.
Traffic lights are used to identify areas where there is a high risk of an outbreak. Green would not impose any restrictions while orange would require more mask wear and distancing. Red would also limit the size of gatherings, even for those with vaccination certificates. Ardern stated that Auckland would be the first to enter the new system with a red light. Other regions would then follow suit.
David Seymour (libertarian ACT Party) is an opposition lawmaker who said that the government should have reopened earlier but was delaying to make its vaccine passport system functional.
Ardern previously announced that the border that surrounds Auckland, which had been preventing most people from leaving Auckland, would be lifted on Dec. 15. This will allow Aucklanders to travel during the Christmas holidays period. However it raises concerns among health professionals that the virus will spread faster throughout the country.