Almost all Covid-19 restrictions will be scrapped from midnight tonight as the traffic light framework comes to an end.
That includes all mask wearing requirements, except in healthcare and aged care facilities, the need for household contacts to self-isolate and vaccination requirements for incoming travellers and air crew.
All government vaccine mandates will come to an end in two weeks on September 26 (the date of the newly announced QEII memorial day).
Those who test positive for Covid-19 will still need to isolate for a week, however, and the government has announced that all New Zealanders aged 65 and over, and Māori aged 50 and over, will gain automatic access to Covid anti-virals if they catch the virus. An additional 40,000 doses have been purchased by the government.
Read more: Traffic light system gone – the new Covid rules explained
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said it was now time – 927 days into the pandemic – to “safely” turn the page on our Covid-19 management. “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,” she said.
“For the first time in two years we can approach summer with the much needed certainty New Zealanders and business need, helping to drive greater economic activity critical to our economic recovery.”
The decision to drop Covid protections was, said Ardern, in line with the latest health advice that said New Zealand was in a position to move forward. Thousands of New Zealand lives had been saved by the actions taken throughout the pandemic.
While government-mandated mask rules would no longer apply, Ardern said individual businesses could choose to implement their own requirements. “Please respect those who choose to keep wearing masks as a form of protection,” the prime minister said.
With vaccination requirements travellers ending, the requirement to test on arrival and after five days will now just be encouraged. Household contacts of positive cases will, however, be asked to take a daily rapid test.
“In short, we now move on to a simple two requirements system of masks in healthcare settings and 7 days isolation for positive cases only,” Ardern said.
Earlier today, Covid communicator Siouxsie Wiles, writing for The Spinoff, argued against ditching restrictions. “It would be a big, and in the long term expensive, mistake,” she wrote.