‘A fresh start’: New Zealand to ditch Covid vaccine passes and mandates | New Zealand
New Zealand will scrap passes and vaccination mandates for part of the workforce in early April, as part of a major relaxation of the country’s strict Covid-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the changes on Wednesday morning, citing high vaccination rates, better data to identify high-risk settings and modeling that suggests the country’s Omicron outbreak will peak in early April.
The country on Wednesday reported 20,087 new cases, 960 people hospitalized and 11 more deaths, bringing the total number of Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic to 210. New Zealand has officially recorded more than 500,000 cases of Covid-19. – almost all during the Omicron wave – but modellers expect the real figure could now reach 1.7 million. Modeling suggests Auckland has now peaked in cases, with numbers slowly falling, and the rest of the country is expected to peak by April 5.
“We’ve been signaling for some time that when we come out of the peak, now would be the time to be able to make it easier to use things like vaccine passes and money orders,” Ardern said.
The changes include removing all collection limits in outdoor settings and removing requirements for people to use the Covid-19 tracer app to scan when entering businesses. Reception and other venues may increase their indoor gathering limit from 100 to 200 from Friday.
From April 4, vaccine passes will no longer be required to enter shops and venues, and vaccination warrants will be waived for education, police and defense force workers. Those who work in healthcare, corrections, aged care and border care will still need to be vaccinated to work.
Ardern said she was initially not in favor of vaccination passes and mandates, but following the outbreak in Delta which led to a three-month lockdown in Auckland, it became clear that mandates were needed to increase the vaccination levels required for a safe reopening.
The mandates were “without a doubt” one of the reasons New Zealand achieved a 95% vaccination rate for the eligible population and achieved near elimination of Delta over the summer, a- she declared.
Today’s decision to ease the mandates was not because of a week-long protest outside parliament, ‘but because it was safe to do so’, Ardern said.
The Covid protection framework, known as the traffic light system, will remain in place but remain flexible to change, including if new variants of the virus emerge. The use of masks will also remain to keep vulnerable communities safe, she said.
“It’s not the end, but in some ways it’s also a new beginning.
“Covid is still with us and will be for some time to come, which is why we are keeping our Covid protection framework in place.”
Ardern thanked New Zealanders for the sacrifices they have made over the past two years and reminded the country of how far it has come since the imposition of the first strict restrictions, including lockdowns, gathering limits and the closure of the border.
“These defenses were brutal, they were tough, and they were always meant to be temporary. New Zealand is now known for its successful Covid response.
“But although we succeeded, it was also very difficult. Everyone had to give something up to make it work. Some more than others. »
“We still have a difficult journey ahead”
Leading medical professionals and modellers cautiously greeted the announcement, saying that while vaccines made sense with Delta, Omicron was the game changer.
“Vaccines are still extremely effective at preventing serious illness, but less effective at preventing people from catching and spreading the virus,” said Covid-19 modeler Michael Plank, of Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury.
“At the same time, we now have increasing levels of acquired immunity against infections in the population. This means that allowing unvaccinated people into places like cafes and bars does not significantly change the risk of catching Covid there.
Although Omicron is nearing its peak, there is still “a difficult journey ahead”, he said. “At least as many people will be infected coming down the mountain as going up, and the pressure on our healthcare system is expected to remain high. Compliance with the rules of the mask is crucial to limit transmission.
Immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu from the University of Otago said vaccination inequities remain for Maori and Pacific peoples, particularly with regard to booster intake and for children aged 5 to 11 years old. “Caution and caution are still needed, especially for vulnerable communities.”