New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday the country will end its strict COVID-19 lockdown once 90% of its citizens are fully vaccinated.
The nation of 5 million people has been among the best in the world at containing the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, largely because New Zealand closed its borders for most of the last 18 months to non-residents.
The strategy to eliminate COVID-19 worked for the most part, with the nation reporting only 28 deaths over the course of the pandemic. Earlier this year, much of the country had all but returned to normal.
But in August, the Delta variant of the virus prompted an outbreak in the nation’s largest city, Auckland. The city of 2 million has been locked down for much of the past nine weeks.
At a news conference in the capital, Wellington, Ardern said, while the nation should be proud of all it achieved during the early months of the pandemic, the delta variant has made it very hard to maintain its elimination strategy. She said rather than remain locked down, the way to move forward is through vaccinations.
Ardern said, based on consultations with experts and examination of data, officials established the 90% vaccination criteria for each of the nation’s 20 district health regions. She said, once that target is reached in a given district, people will be free to do what they want, as long as they provide proof of vaccination.
The prime minister said, “Basically, if you want to be guaranteed that no matter the setting that we are in that you can go to bars, restaurants and close-proximity businesses like a hairdresser, you’ll need to be vaccinated.”
The New Zealand Health Ministry says 58 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated as of Friday.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.