New Zealand will largely lift its Covid-19 lockdown this week, with only the country’s Auckland infection epicenter remaining under strict stay-at-home orders, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.
About three million New Zealanders will no longer stay at home overnight from Tuesday and schools will reopen for the first time in three weeks on Thursday, Ardern said.
But she added that Auckland, where the outbreak of the Delta variant emerged late last month, will remain in hard lockdown for at least another week because the virus had not yet reached the city of two million.
Ardern said positive progress had been made in reducing the number of cases, but the highly transmissible Delta variant was a “game changer” meaning Auckland’s restrictions couldn’t be relaxed too soon.
“We’ve done so well to get this outbreak under control that the level four (hard lockdown) restrictions are working, but the work isn’t done yet,” she said.
“We are on the brink of elimination, but we can’t drop the ball.”
New Zealanders outside Auckland go to alert level two of the country’s four-tier coronavirus response system.
It means the stay-at-home orders will be lifted, but the freedoms enjoyed before the Auckland cluster came into existence – when New Zealand home life was almost normal – will not be fully restored.
Indoor social gatherings are limited to 50 people, with masks required and scanning tracer apps in many locations.
The outbreak ended a six-month period with no local transmission in New Zealand, which was one of the world’s last Covid-free zones and has been widely praised for its pandemic response.
A woman in her 90s on Saturday became the first person to die of COVID-19 in New Zealand since February, bringing the number of pandemic deaths in the country to 27.