New Zealand lifts most vaccine mandates as Omicron numbers drop

Sports venues to welcome full-capacity crowds when Covid-19 rules ease this weekend

A few supporters surrounded by empty seats due to COVID-19 crowd restrictions during the round 3 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Blues and the Chiefs at Eden Park on March 05, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. Getty Images
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New Zealand will remove many of its Covid-19 mandates over the next two weeks as an outbreak of the Omicron variant begins to wane, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“It’s now safe to ease the restrictions that have successfully prevented widespread health and economic damage,” Ms Ardern said in a news conference on Wednesday in Wellington.

“The evidence shows we are coming off the Omicron peak with cases in Auckland having already declined significantly, and a decline expected nationally by early April.”

People will no longer need to be vaccinated to visit places such as shops, restaurants and bars from April 4. The requirement to scan QR bar codes at those venues will also be scrapped.

Although the Omicron outbreak is continuing, with more than 20,000 new cases reported yesterday, Ms Ardern said infections were expected to fall and New Zealand’s high vaccination rates left it well placed to cope.

“This is not the end, but in some ways it is also a new beginning,” Ms Ardern told reporters, saying the changes showed that “Covid is here to stay“.

A vaccine mandate will be scrapped for some workers, though it will continue for groups such as health workers, border staff and prison officers.

The requirement that people wear masks in many enclosed spaces, including shops, public transport and classrooms for pupils aged 8 and over, will stay in place.

New Zealand sports venues will also welcome full-capacity crowds when Covid-19 rules ease this weekend.

“While Omicron is transmissible the natural ventilation of an outdoor seating reduces the risk,” Ms Ardern said.

New Zealand to reopen borders sooner than planned

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 16: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference at Parliament on March 16, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand's border will open to fully vaccinated tourists from Australia from 11:59pm on April 12. Visitors from other visa waiver countries such as the US and UK will be permitted entry into New Zealand from 11:59pm on May 1. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

Women's Cricket World Cup organisers put more tickets on sale for weekend matches and for the semi-finals starting next Wednesday.

“We had sold out what we had available under the previous restrictions so it's great to offer full capacity,” tournament boss Andrea Nelson said.

Crowds will also be back for Super Rugby Pacific matches.

Ms Ardern said the government’s actions over the past two years to limit the spread of the coronavirus had saved thousands of lives and helped the economy.

Meanwhile, restrictions will be removed before tourists start arriving back in New Zealand.

Earlier this month, the government announced that Australian tourists would be welcomed back from April 12 and tourists from many other countries, including the US, Canada, and Britain, from May 1.

International tourism used to account for about 20 per cent of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5 per cent of GDP. But it evaporated after the nation imposed some of the world’s strictest border controls.

Health experts warned that some countries which had dropped restrictions as Omicron faded were now dealing with another surge in cases.

More than 95 per cent of New Zealand's population over the age of 12 has received two vaccination shots, with more than 500,000 confirmed cases in the country of 5 million.

Updated: March 23, 2022, 7:57 AM