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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced pandemic travel restrictions on the Auckland region imposed in August will lift next month, but travelers must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of departure.

Why it matters: Those who fail to comply with the requirement face an NZ $1,000 fine (U.S. $700) and police will be responsible for enforcement when it takes effect on Dec. 15, Ardern said at a briefing Wednesday afternoon New Zealand time.

  • "Police undertake random spot checks to enforce a range of laws on our roads, such as drink driving, and will take the same approach here," Ardern said.

The big picture: Ardern's government is moving away from its COVID-19 elimination strategy, which had proved successful before Delta arrived in New Zealand in mid-August and the entire country entered alert level 4 — the highest lockdown level.

  • Lockdowns have been lifted in most places outside of Auckland, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, and restrictions have eased somewhat for New Zealand's most populous city.
  • Retailers reopened earlier this month, but Auckland remains on lockdown level 3 — meaning Aucklanders must stay home at night and can't travel outside the region's boundary.

By the numbers: NZ recorded 194 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the vast majority in Auckland, taking the total since the outbreak began to 6,167.

Of note: Ardern said that her Cabinet would confirm on Nov. 29 the planned switch to the COVID-19 Protection Framework for New Zealand — known as the "traffic light system."

  • Auckland and areas with vaccination rates that haven't yet hit the 90% fully vaccinated goal would be placed in the "red" setting, while the rest of the country would move into "orange."
  • This system is also tied to vaccinations, with many businesses unable to operate unless all staff are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Ardern last month announced a vaccine mandate for businesses that affects 40% of the workforce.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Go deeper

17 hours ago - Health

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday not to impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since been identified in several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new strain.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

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