New Zealand Sets 90% Vaccination Target to Ease Restrictions
(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set one of the world’s highest vaccination targets for pandemic restrictions to be eased as she presented a roadmap for the country to abandon lockdowns and gradually reopen.
Once 90% of the eligible population aged 12 and over is fully vaccinated, the government will begin to ease restrictions and introduce a new traffic-light system to gauge the level of risk in each region, Ardern said at a news conference Friday in Wellington. The government will measure vaccination rates for each District Health Board around the country, she said.
“This target ensures good regional spread across the country and will also help address equity issues within each region,” Ardern said. “We will be one of the few countries that will have such high levels of vaccination while still using public health measures to keep everyone as safe as we can.”
New Zealand’s 90% target compares with 80% in Singapore, while England did away with restrictions before a 70% vaccination rate was reached. The Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria began easing restrictions when 70% of their eligible populations were inoculated.
Currently, around 68% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, while 86% have had at least one shot.
New Zealand had pursued a strict elimination strategy that served it well through the initial stages of the pandemic, but it has been unable to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious delta variant in Auckland. The nation’s largest city has been in lockdown for more than two months, with daily new case numbers rising in recent weeks, while mask-wearing and social distancing is still required throughout the rest of the country.
New Covid-19 cases hit another record Friday, with 129 infections reported, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. Of those, 120 were in Auckland and 9 were in the neighboring Waikato region.
Ardern said at current vaccination rates, Auckland could exit lockdown before Christmas. Cabinet will review settings on Nov. 29.
Once the 90% target has been reached, lockdowns will no longer be used to manage outbreaks. Rather, a traffic-light system will be introduced that stipulates the level of restrictions required for a given region.
Red requires mask-wearing in all public venues and puts limits on gatherings, while green involves only limited restrictions such as mask-wearing on public transport.
A key part of the new system will be the use of vaccine certificates, which people will need to enter large gatherings such as concerts and sports events.
With New South Wales lifting restrictions earlier this month and Victoria exiting lockdown today, Ardern was under pressure to present a plan for New Zealand. After a slow start, the government rushed vaccinations and has previously said it intends to start reopening the border in the first quarter of next year.
Ardern didn’t give any details on opening the border today, but stressed the need for people to get vaccinated.
“My message to the New Zealanders who have not yet had their first dose –- if you want summer, if you want to go to bars and restaurants, get vaccinated,” she said. “If you want to get a haircut, get vaccinated. If you want to go to a concert, or a festival, get vaccinated. If you want to go to a gym, or a sports events, get vaccinated.”
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