New Zealand has announced the lifting of vaccine mandates for a number of sectors, including teaching and police, from April 4, as the current COVID-19 outbreak nears its peak.
- Only New Zealanders working with vulnerable people will need to be vaccinated from April 4
- Vaccine passes will no longer be mandatory for visits to restaurants and coffee shops
- The announcement comes after protests against vaccine mandates in Wellington earlier this month
New Zealand’s response to the pandemic won plaudits overseas and kept hospitalisations and deaths low.
But public anger over sustained domestic restrictions has grown, reaching a climax earlier this month during violent protests outside the nation’s parliament in Wellington.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said only those working with vulnerable people, such as aged care and health sectors and border workers, would need to be vaccinated from April 4.
Vaccine passes would also no longer be mandatory to visit restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces, she added.
“With more tools, and one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world, we are able to keep moving forward safely,” Ms Ardern said as she announced the lifting of most mandates.
More than 95 per cent of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 have now received two vaccinations.
But with more than 500,000 confirmed cases — and around 17,000 new infections per day — in the country of 5 million, the virus is now widespread.
Ms Ardern said with the peak of the outbreak in Auckland now passed — and the rest of country expected to see infections peak before April 5 — mandates could soon be lifted.
“With our cases coming down, it’s time to take our next steps with confidence in the collective immunity and protections we have built up,” she said.
The move comes a week after the government announced it would be opening the borders for Australians from April 12 — and those on visa-waiver programs from May.
The changes mean that many restrictions will have gone by the time international visitors return to New Zealand.
Before the pandemic, international tourism accounted for about 20 per cent of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 per cent of GDP.
From Friday, New Zealand will remove the 100-person limit on outdoor crowds, allowing some concerts and big sporting events like marathons to resume.
An indoor limit of 100 people will be raised to 200 people, and any restrictions could soon be removed altogether.