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The Country With the World's Strictest Pandemic Measures Announces a Sweeping Reversal of Policies

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool Photo via AP

New Zealand, the country with the strictest pandemic rules in the world, has finally acknowledged it’s time to “safely turn the page.”  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday the government will end the last vaccines mandates in two weeks and mask-wearing will no longer be required in public.

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“Today marks a milestone in our response. Finally, rather than feeling that Covid dictates what happens to us, our lives, and our futures, we take back control,” Ardern said.

“The most recent health advice now tells us that with the lowest cases and hospitalizations since February, our population well vaccinated, and expanded access to anti-viral medicines, New Zealand is in a position to move forward,” she continued. 

“We move forward with confidence knowing that we’re not going to use those measures in the future.”

From Tuesday, mask-wearing will only be compulsory in healthcare settings, excepting mental health services. Also gone are the few remaining vaccine mandates, for workers and inbound travellers. Tests on arrival in New Zealand are no longer required but encouraged.

While the isolation requirement for Covid-positive Kiwis has remained, the government has scrapped a requirement for household contacts to also do so.

The government’s retention of restrictions in recent months has drawn criticism from the opposition and from business. Kiwis were increasingly fed up with many rules, especially mask-wearing, with widespread non-compliance, particularly outside Wellington.

Ardern said she was grateful to New Zealanders’ endurance during the pandemic.

“This will be the first summer in three years where there won’t be the question of what we will and what won’t be cancelled because of Covid cases,” she said.

“Where our borders are fully reopened and there isn’t a fear of being separated or stranded. The summer where we have certainty. So today, I say again to everyone, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.” (The Guardian)

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New Zealand initially sought to eliminate the virus, going so far as to establish mandatory quarantine camps, but then adopted an approach that took into account vaccination rates. Eventually the country moved to mask and vaccine mandates to control the spread.

Meanwhile in America, the Biden administration is still requiring international travelers crossing legally into the U.S. to be fully vaccinated - a rule that recently prevented tennis star Novak Djokovic from being able to compete in the U.S. Open.

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