New Zealand scraps most remaining COVID rules as cases drop

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lifted most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Monday as the government signaled a return to normal for the first time since the pandemic began.

People will no longer be required to wear masks in supermarkets, shops, buses or planes. The last remaining vaccination mandates – on healthcare workers – will end. And tourists will no longer need to be vaccinated to visit the country.

The government has announced that it is abandoning its so-called COVID traffic light framework altogether and leaving only two main restrictions in place – that those who test positive for the virus self-isolate for seven days and that people wear protective clothing. masks when visiting health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.

The changes come as an outbreak of the omicron variant wanes and the Southern Hemisphere winter ends. The number of cases in New Zealand is at its lowest since February.

“The changes we made today are significant. They mark an important step in our response,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “This is a time when finally — rather than feeling that COVID is dictating what happens to us, our lives and our future — we take back control.”

She said the changes will help boost business activity, which is vital for the country’s economic recovery.

“It will be the first summer in three years where the question will not arise: what if?” Arden said.

The end of government restrictions won’t stop individual workplaces or shops from imposing their own rules, although most people expect mask use to drop as soon as government restrictions just end. before midnight Monday.

These measures have been welcomed by business leaders.

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it was encouraging to see the government put its faith in individual businesses again.

“No two sites are the same and each company can decide what works for their own environment when it comes to minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

New Zealand had initial success in the fight against the pandemic, managing to completely eliminate the virus after closing its borders and carefully tracing contact cases. But his approach changed as more transmissible variants proved impossible to eliminate.

As recently as March, the country of 5 million had reported just 65 virus deaths. Since an omicron wave took hold, that number has risen to nearly 2,000. But that’s still low compared to death rates in many other countries.

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