Friday, May 27, 2022

New Zealand puts country on ‘red alert’ amid Omicron, PM cancels wedding

New Zealand said Sunday it would impose its highest level of COVID-19 restrictions after nine cases of the micromicron variant were found across the country, though officials said there would be no lockdowns in response to new infections.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the entire country will be under a “red” alert level from midnight Monday morning, requiring face coverings in many public places and placing capacity limits on most places. She added that Kiwis should expect restrictions for “several weeks”, noting that she canceled her own wedding in response to the new restrictions.

“I am no different, dare I say, than the thousands of other New Zealanders who have experienced much more devastating effects of the pandemic, the most devastating of which is the inability to sometimes be with a loved one when they are seriously ill,” Ardern said on Sunday. “It will far, far surpass any sadness I feel.”

On Monday, health officials said additional cases had been found and 19 people were isolated after testing positive linked to the omicron strain.

About 93% of New Zealanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the country continues to encourage those who qualify for a booster shot to prevent the number of severe cases associated with the omicron variant. New Zealand has largely avoided the devastating waves of infections seen in other countries, including neighboring Australia, although many Pacific countries have documented their first Omicron cases in recent days.

“During the red, businesses stay open and you can do most of the things you normally do, including visiting family and friends and traveling around the country,” Ardern said.

In November, the country said it would abandon its long-standing efforts to eliminate COVID-19 cases across the country and end the use of lockdowns to contain the virus. Instead, officials introduced a traffic light system that allowed greater freedoms for fully vaccinated people, with tighter restrictions on mask use and public gatherings marked green to red.

Local health officials have said in recent days that they expect the coronavirus to become endemic in New Zealand, although they emphasize that the country is much better prepared to deal with it due to high vaccination rates.

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Nation World News Desk
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