New Zealand is easing the coronavirus lockdown for nearly the entire country first imposed last month after the Pacific nation reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case in six months.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that the nationwide alert level will be lowered to Level 2, allowing schools, businesses and offices to reopen.
The new orders will not apply to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and the epicenter of the current outbreak that began when a 58-year-old man tested positive for the delta variant of COVID-19 in mid-August. The nation has posted 821 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the current outbreak, including 20 new cases on Monday.
Auckland will remain under strict stay-at-home orders until September 14, keeping all schools, offices and businesses shut down with only essential services remaining operational.
Prime Minister Ardern has embraced a strategy of totally eliminating COVID-19, saying it was necessary to “go hard” with the strict lockdown in order to prevent a widespread outbreak. New Zealand imposed a strict lockdown in the early days of the pandemic that has led to just 3,814 confirmed infections and just 27 deaths among its five million citizens.
Only 25 to 30 percent of all New Zealanders have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Officials say the government is nearing a final agreement to secure more doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine within days.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Tuesday that beginning September 15, travelers from mainland China and the nearby enclave of Macao will be allowed to enter the semi-autonomous city without a mandatory quarantine. Lam told reporters that it will allow a total of 2,000 travelers from both places on a daily basis, but they will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival.
Lam also said Hong Kong residents will be allowed to return to the city from the mainland without undergoing quarantine, so long as they did not travel to any high-risk areas.
The new changes are part of the government’s new “Come2HK” program aimed at reviving the city’s tourism industry, which sustained major losses during the first year of the pandemic as Hong Kong pursued a “zero-Covid” elimination strategy. But the city will continue to impose travel restrictions on travelers from foreign countries, prompting growing frustration among Hong Kong’s business community.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.