New Zealand to scrap most Covid restrictions ahead of tourist return

Key changes include scrapping vaccine passes and the wearing of masks outdoors

Sravasti Dasgupta
Wednesday 23 March 2022 14:37 GMT
Related: Protester ‘drives car at police’ as New Zealand tightens net on anti-vaxxer demonstration

New Zealand is lifting most of its Covid restrictions as the country prepares to welcome tourists once more, with prime minister Jacinda Ardern calling it a “new beginning”.

The key changes include removing the mandatory vaccine requirement to enter shops and hospitality venues, and scrapping masks outdoors.

From Friday, curbs restricting outdoor gatherings to 100 people will be lifted, while the limit on indoor gatherings will be increased to 200.

Vaccine passes for people to enter retail stores, restaurants and bars will also be lifted from 4 April. Vaccine mandates will be dropped for workers in education, police and the defence force, although they will continue to be mandatory for healthcare staff, care workers and correctional officers.

The country reported 20,907 Covid and 15 deaths cases on Tuesday, taking its total caseload to about 539,000 and deaths to 184.

New Zealand’s director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said that the case numbers had peaked in Auckland, even though the country continues to report its highest rate of cases with an average of 17,000 infections a day.

However, Ms Ardern said that the new rules are based on modelling that expects the peak to have passed by the time they come into effect fully.

“This is not the end, but in some ways it is also a new beginning,” Ms Ardern told reporters on Wednesday. “Covid is still with us and it will be for some time to come, that’s why we are keeping in place our Covid protection framework.”

“I consider this to be a cautious moving forward,” Ms Ardern added.

However, she did not rule out the possibility of future lockdowns if cases rise again.

“There is nothing we are currently experiencing that would suggest we will need [lockdowns] and that has been the case for a long time,” she was quoted as saying by NZ Herald.

Since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand has managed to keep cases low by imposing strict restrictions, including on border control.

Ms Ardern said they had only done things that were “necessary” to get through as safely as possible. “I know it has been tough but I absolutely stand by the decisions we made.”

The lifting of restrictions also come as the country gets ready to welcome tourists from mid-April.

Last week, the government announced that tourists from neighbouring Australia will be able to travel to New Zealand from 12 April, while those from visa-waiver countries – like US, Britain and many European countries – can visit the country from 1 May under the new plan.

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