Feb 21, 2022 - World

New Zealand PM indicates mandates will lift after Omicron peaks

 New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media as she promotes the COVID-19 booster vaccine at the new vaccination centre at the Cloud on February 04, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this month. Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions would lift once the threat of Omicron has passed.

Why it matters: NZ imposed some of the world's toughest pandemic measures and largely contained the virus to managed hotel quarantine facilities for returning residents before Delta arrived and the government moved away from an elimination strategy toward one focused on vaccinations.

  • Omicron has driven New Zealand's seven-day average of new community cases to 1,667. The death toll has remained low by global standards, with the virus killing 55 people since the pandemic began.

By the numbers: 95% of people over 12 have had two COVID-19 vaccine doses and more than 2.1 million in the country of 5 million have received booster shots.

Driving the news: Ardern spoke of easing mandates at a news conference in which she denounced a group of demonstrators, who've been camped outside Parliament grounds in Wellington for two weeks protesting pandemic measures and other issues, for throwing "human waste" at police.

What she's saying: Ardern said Omicron was expected to peak in mid to late March and that mandates would lift "well beyond" the outbreak's peak, once pressure on the health care system was manageable.

  • Vaccine passes that are in place for venues including hair salons, bars and restaurants had "always been temporary" and were the "least bad option" to prevent further restrictions across the whole population, she said.
  • "Everyone is over COVID, no one wants to live with rules and restrictions, but if we hadn't done what we did, we would have more COVID and lost people we love," Ardern said.
  • "We will move to be less restrictive, but not because they demand it," she said of the protesters, but "because it will be safe for our population to do so."
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