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After Omicron peaks, New Zealand will ease mandates

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk through a retail district in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions being eased in Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall

After the Omicron peak passes, New Zealand will abolish COVID-19 vaccine mandates and social distancing measures, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared on Monday, as protesters occupying the parliament grounds battled with police once more.

The news: Thousands of demonstrators have blocked streets near the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, for two weeks with trucks, automobiles, and motorcycles, increasing pressure on the government to abolish vaccine mandates, inspired by trucker rallies in Canada.

  • Ardern refused to give a specific date, but said that once Omicron hits its peak, which is estimated in mid- to late March, vaccine 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.

What’s going on: The protests started as a protest against the vaccine mandates, but they have since grown into a larger campaign against Ardern and her government.

  • Eight persons were arrested on Monday for disorderly conduct and obstruction, with human faeces being hurled at police officers.
  • Since the pandemic began, New Zealand has recorded roughly 16,000 COVID-19 cases and 53 deaths, which is low by global standards, but an Omicron-fuelled outbreak has boosted the current seven-day average of new infections to over 1,600 cases daily.
  • Around 94 per cent of those who are eligible have been vaccinated, with vaccinations being required for some front-line workers.
  • The stalemate in parliament is putting Ardern to the test, as she has been praised for keeping the country virus-free for the past two years but has been chastised for maintaining tough restrictions and delaying border reopening plans.

What they’re saying: “What we are seeing outside parliament, and the reaction to it, is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time,” main opposition National On Monday, Christopher Luxon, the party’s head, called for the abolition of vaccine mandates and the reopening of borders.

  • “It’s driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, yes, but the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a Government that seems to be stalling,” he said.
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