On Monday, the government of New Zealand removed coronavirus restrictions in Auckland, the country’s largest metropolis, after expressing confidence that the Delta variety had not spread across the country.
However, tight limitations will remain in place even when the alert level in the 1.7 million-strong metropolis at the epicenter of the latest Delta epidemic drops to 3 from 4 at midnight on Tuesday.
Schools and offices, for example, must remain closed, with businesses limited to simply providing contactless services.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that residents must remain in their own “bubbles,” that they cannot visit friends or neighbors, and that they cannot let their children to play together.
“Bubbles must remain small and exclusive,” she told a news conference.
“We are confident that there is no large-scale undetected transmission,” Ardern said. “There is ongoing work to stamp it out, which is why we are still at level 3.”
The Auckland restrictions will ensure the Delta variant is stamped out as New Zealand sticks with its strategy of elimination of the virus, Ardern added.
Monday’s relaxation allows for up to 10 people to attend funerals and weddings, while businesses can offer contactless pick-up or delivery services, including takeaways.
Auckland will stay at level 3 for at least two weeks. For the rest of the country, the level will remain at 2, Ardern said.
New Zealand reported 22 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, all in Auckland, which has been in a full level-4 lockdown since mid-August. Until then, the country had been largely virus-free. Its tally of infections is 3,725, with 27 deaths.
Ardern’s tough lockdowns and international border closure helped rein in COVID-19, but her government has been criticized for a slow rollout of vaccine that exposed much of the population to Delta.
New Zealand has since ramped up its vaccine drive, with purchases of additional vaccine doses from Spain and Denmark.