In early April, New Zealand will eliminate vaccine passes and mandates for a portion of the workforce, signalling a significant relaxation of the country’s severe Covid-19 rules.
The adjustments were announced on Wednesday morning by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who cited high vaccination rates, better data to identify high-risk areas, and modelling that forecasts the country’s Omicron outbreak will peak in early April.
On Wednesday, the country recorded 20,087 new cases, 960 patients in hospitals, and 11 more deaths, bringing the total number of Covid-19 deaths to 210 since the outbreak began.
Officially, New Zealand has reported more than 500,000 cases of Covid-19, virtually all of which occurred during the Omicron wave, but modellers believe the true total could now be as high as 1.7 million.
Modeling indicates that Auckland has hit peak cases, with numbers gradually declining, and that the rest of the country will reach its peak by 5 April.
“We’ve been signalling for a while that when we come off the peak, that’s when we’ll be able to lighten up on things like vaccine passes and requirements,” Ardern said.
The adjustments include eliminating all outside gathering restrictions and eliminating the requirement that users use the Covid-19 tracer app to scan in when visiting establishments.
From Friday, hospitality and other facilities will be able to expand their indoor gathering capacity from 100 to 200 people.
Vaccine passes will no longer be required to enter stores and venues as of April 4, and vaccine mandates for educators, police officers, and defence personnel will be eliminated.
Those working in health, corrections, elderly care, and border patrol will still need to get vaccinated.
Initially, Ardern was opposed to vaccine passes and mandates, but after the Delta outbreak, which resulted in a three-month lockdown in Auckland, it became evident that mandates were essential to improve vaccination levels required for a safe reopening.
According to her, the mandates were “undoubtedly” one of the reasons New Zealand achieved a 95 percent vaccination rate for the eligible population and the near-eradication of Delta throughout the summer.