WELLINGTON, New Zealand (TBEN) – New Zealand lifted most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Monday as the government announced a return to normalcy for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
People will no longer be required to wear masks in supermarkets, shops, buses or airplanes. The last remaining vaccine mandates – for health professionals – will end. And tourists no longer need to be vaccinated to visit the country.
The government announced it would scrap its so-called COVID traffic light framework altogether, with only two major restrictions: that those who test positive for the virus will self-isolate for seven days, and that people will wear masks when visiting healthcare facilities such as hospitals and retirement homes. .
The changes come as an outbreak of an ommicron variant subsides and winter in the southern hemisphere ends. New Zealand’s number of cases is at its lowest point since February.
“The changes we have made today are significant. They mark a milestone in our response,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “This is a time when we are finally — instead of feeling COVID dictating what happens to us, our lives and our future — we are taking back control.”
She said the changes will boost business activity, which is vital to the country’s economic recovery.
“This will be the first summer in three years in which the question no longer exists: what if?” said Ardern.
The end of government restrictions won’t stop individual workplaces or shops from imposing their own rules, though most people expect mask use to drop once government restrictions end just before midnight Monday.
The moves were welcomed by business leaders.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it was encouraging to see the government regaining confidence in individual companies.
“No two locations are the same and each company can decide what works for its own environment when it comes to minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
New Zealand had initial success in fighting the pandemic and managed to completely eliminate the virus after closing borders and careful tracing of contacts. But the approach changed as more transmissible variants proved impossible to eradicate.
As of March, the country of 5 million people had reported just 65 virus deaths. Since a microwave hold, that number has risen to nearly 2,000. But that remains low compared to death rates in many other countries.