New Zealand will abolish vaccine passes and vaccine mandates for part of the workforce in early April, as a result of severe easing of tough restrictions in the country by Covid-19.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the changes Wednesday morning, citing high levels of vaccination, better data to determine which high-risk environments, and simulations that suggest the Omicron outbreak in the country will peak in early April.
On Wednesday, the country reported 20,087 new cases, 960 people in hospitals and 11 more deaths, bringing the total death toll from Covid-19 since the pandemic to 210. New Zealand has officially recorded more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases – almost all during the Omicron wave – but fashion designers expect the true figure could now reach 1.7 million. The simulation suggests that Auckland has reached its peak incidence, and the numbers are slowly declining, with the rest of the country expected to reach its peak by April 5th.
“We have been signaling for some time that when we reach the peak, it will be time to facilitate the use of things like vaccine passes and mandates,” Ardern said.
The changes include lifting all outdoor collection limits and removing requirements for people to use the Covid-19 tracking application to scan when entering the enterprise. Hospitality and other venues may increase the indoor collection limit from 100 to 200 from Friday.
From April 4, vaccine passes will no longer be required to enter stores and playgrounds, and vaccine mandates will be revoked for educators, police and defense forces. Those who work in health care, correctional facilities, care for the elderly and at the border will still need to be vaccinated for work.
Ardern said she was not initially in favor of vaccine passes and mandates, but after the delta outbreak that led to a three-month closure in Auckland, it became clear that raising the level of vaccination needed for safe reopening required mandates.
The mandates were “undoubtedly” one of the reasons why New Zealand has reached the 95 per cent vaccination rate that it is entitled to, and has achieved almost the elimination of the Delta over the summer, she said.
Today’s decision to weaken the mandate was not because of Fr. Weekly protest outside parliament, “but because it was safe,” Ardern said.
The Covid protection framework, known as the traffic light system, will remain in place but will remain flexible to change, including in the event of new virus variants. The use of masks will also remain to ensure the safety of vulnerable communities, she said.
“It’s not the end, but in a sense it’s also a new beginning.
“Covid is still with us and it will be for some time to come, so we maintain our Covid protection system.”
Ardern thanked New Zealanders for the sacrifices they have made over the past two years, and reminded the country how far it has come since the first tough restrictions were imposed, including blocking, collecting restrictions and closing the border.
“These defenses were blunt, they were tough, and they always had to be temporary. New Zealand is now known for our successful response to Covid.
“But while we were successful, it was also damn hard. Everyone had to give up something to make it work. Some are bigger than others. ”
“We still have a difficult way ahead”
Leading health professionals and modelers cautiously welcomed the announcement, saying that while the vaccine pass makes sense with Delta, Omicron has changed the game.
“Vaccines are still extremely effective in preventing serious diseases, but less effective in stopping the infection and spreading the virus,” said Covid-19 fashion designer Michael Planck of Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury.
“At the same time, our population is now increasing its immunity to infection. This means that admitting unvaccinated people to places such as cafes and bars does not significantly change the risk of infecting Covid there. ”
Although Omicron may be nearing its peak, there is still a “difficult journey” ahead, he said. “At least as many people get infected on the descent from the mountain as on the way up, and the pressure on our health care system is likely to remain high. Adherence to mask rules is crucial to limit transmission. ”
Immunologist Dr. Diane Sika-Paatanu of Otaga University said that inequalities in vaccination persist for Maori and Pacific peoples, especially with regard to revaccination, and for children aged 5 to 11. “Care and caution are still needed by particularly vulnerable communities.”