New Zealand lifts most vaccine mandates as Omicron outbreak nears peak

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Members of the public wait in cars at a drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination clinic during a single-day vaccination drive, aimed at significantly increasing the percentage of vaccinated people in the country, in Auckland, New Zealand, October 16, 2021. REUTERS/Simon Watts

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WELLINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - New Zealand's government said on Wednesday it would lift vaccine mandates for a number of sectors including teaching and police from April 4 as the current COVID-19 outbreak nears its peak.

New Zealand's response to the pandemic won plaudits overseas and kept hospitalisations and deaths low. But public anger over sustained domestic restrictions has grown, reaching a climax earlier this month during violent protests outside the nation's legislature in Wellington. read more

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference that only those working with vulnerable people such as aged care and heath sectors and border workers would need to be vaccinated from April 4.

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Vaccine passes would also no longer be mandatory to visit restaurants, coffee shops and other public spaces, she added.

"With more tools and one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world we are able to keep moving forward safely," Ardern said as she announced the lifting of most mandates.

Over 95% of New Zealand's population over the age of 12 have now received two vaccinations.

But with more than 500,000 confirmed cases in the country of 5 million, the virus is now widespread.

Ardern said with the peak of the outbreak in New Zealand's largest city Auckland now passed and the rest of country expected to see infections peak before April 5 mandates could soon be lifted.

"With our cases coming down it’s time to take our next steps with confidence in the collective immunity and protections we have built up," she said.

The move comes a week after the government announced it would be opening the borders for Australians from mid-April and those on visa-vaiver programmes from May. read more

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Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Michael Perry

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