New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated that the country will implement the lifting of Covid restrictions, such as mandates and vaccination permits after the country is “well beyond” the height of the Omicron outbreak.
Ardern indicated case numbers will peak in mid-to-late March, or three to six weeks out, at a post-cabinet news conference on Monday. Every three to four days, the number of cases should double.
“It’s likely then, that very soon, we will all know people who have Covid or we will potentially get it ourselves,” she said.
This prospect would have been “scary” earlier in the pandemic, but Ardern said there are three main reasons why it is less so now: Omicron being a mild to moderate illness due to high vaccination rates and boosters, making hospitalization 10 times less likely; the highly vaccinated population; and public health measures like masks, gathering limits, and vaccine passes slowing the spread to ensure everyone who needs a hospital bed can get one.
“So far, that plan is working. We had 46 cases per 100,000 people compared to 367 in New South Wales, and 660 in Victoria, at the same point in the outbreak.”
On Monday, the country saw 2,365 new instances of the virus in the community, 116 individuals admitted to hospitals, and two more fatalities, bringing the total number of deaths to 55 since the pandemic began.
No date yet for lifting of Covid restrictions
Ardern refused to give a specific date, but said that once Omicron hits its peak, which is estimated in mid- to late March, vaccination needs will be reduced.
“We all want to go back to the way life was. And we will, I suspect sooner than you think,” Ardern said at a weekly news conference.
“But when that happens, it will be because easing restrictions won’t compromise the lives of thousands of people – not because you demanded it,” she said, addressing protestors.
According to Arden, once the Omicron wave peaks, there will most likely be a quick decrease followed by instances stabilizing at a lower level. The government can then explore lowering public health measures, starting with loosening gathering size limitations and eventually moving away from vaccination permits and mandates in areas where vulnerable individuals are less likely to be harmed.
“If we hadn’t had vaccine passes, as we managed Delta, we would have had to instead use more general restrictions across the whole population. They have always been the least bad option. But while they have been necessary, as I’ve always said, they have also been temporary.”
“They will remain important in some areas though, for some time,” she said.
Arden acknowledged that setting a specific timetable for reducing obligations is difficult, but said the government must be certain that New Zealand is “well beyond the peak” and that the strain on the health system can be managed.
Hundreds of anti-mandate demonstrators have been occupying parliament grounds for the 14th day. Anti-vaccine attitude, QAnon-style conspiracy theories, antisemitism, and demands for the killing of journalists, politicians, and health professionals have all been expressed throughout the demonstration.
Ardern sent a message to the protesters: “Everyone is over Covid. No one wants to live with rules or restrictions. But had we not all been willing to work together to protect one another, then we all would have been worse off as individuals, including losing people we love.
“That hasn’t happened here for the most part and that is a fact worth celebrating, rather than protesting.”
Ardern stressed that restrictions will be eased only when doing so will not jeopardize the lives of thousands of people, not because demonstrators demanded it.
“Now is not the time to dismantle our hard work and preparation, to remove our armour just as the battle begins.”