New Zealand sets 90% vaccine target to end lockdowns and reopen

A member of the public receives a Pfizer vaccine at a drive-through Covid-19 vaccination clinic in Auckland on Oct 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday (Oct 22) that the country will end its strict coronavirus lockdown measures and move to a system to live with the virus only when 90 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated.

All District Health Boards in the country will need to achieve 90 per cent vaccine rates, Ms Ardern said, which would make the South Pacific nation one of the most vaccinated country in the world.

"Ultimately we have balanced the desire to re-open quickly while continuing to keep people safe," Ms Ardern said at a news conference.

Some 68 per cent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated so far, while 86 per cent have received at least one dose.

On reaching the 90 per cent fully vaccinated target the country will move to a new Covid-19 Protection Framework that provides a pathway out of lockdown and will enable businesses and events to reopen to vaccinated New Zealanders, Ms Ardern said.

"Fully vaccinated people will be able to reconnect with family and friends, go to bars and restaurants and do the things they love with greater certainty and confidence," Ms Ardern said. "Ultimately we have balanced the desire to re-open quickly while continuing to keep people safe."

When the vaccine target is reached, the country will move into a new traffic-light system to manage outbreaks in regions.

Vaccine certificate will be central to the new system, which will also use three settings - green, orange and red - to manage fresh outbreaks and cases, Ms Ardern said.

Auckland will be able to open up sooner, Ms Ardern said, adding the city can move out of lockdown as soon as 90 per cent fully vaccinated is reached in each of the city's three District Health Boards.

"Fully vaccinated people will be able to reconnect with family and friends, go to bars and restaurants and do the things they love with greater certainty and confidence," said Ms Ardern.

The new system would also mean an end to nationwide lockdowns. "Instead we have the vaccines to create a level of safety and armour, and there will be much more predictability," she said.

Once the poster child for stamping out Covid-19, New Zealand is struggling to control an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 despite its largest city Auckland being in a tough lockdown for more than two months.

Ardern has now switched from her tough elimination strategy to a model of learning to live with the virus.

New Zealand reported 129 Covid-19 cases on Friday, a daily record for the third time this week, despite Auckland remaining in lockdown for over two months.

Looser restrictions are in place in most of the rest of the country of 5 million.

The number of cases in the current outbreak reached 2,389 and New Zealand has recorded 28 coronavirus related deaths so far in the pandemic.

Authorities have warned infections are likely to trend higher until vaccination numbers rise.

Opposition National Party leader Judith Collins said the "hurdle" of 90 per cent vaccination condemns every New Zealander to months of more lockdowns and uncertainty.

"It is great we now have 86 per cent of Kiwis who have had at least one dose. But the reality is this last 4 per cent will be the hardest to achieve," Collins said.

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