Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, will relax many virus restrictions nearly 12 weeks into its lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at a news conference on Monday.
The easing of restrictions comes as the country records some of its highest daily case numbers since the pandemic began, with a record 206 cases reported on Saturday.
Starting before midnight on Tuesday, Auckland will allow the reopening of nonessential retail outlets and of public facilities like libraries, museums and zoos. Patrons will not be required to be vaccinated, though masks and physical-distancing restrictions will be in place. Up to 25 people will be permitted to gather outdoors, as well as for funerals and weddings.
Auckland, home to roughly a third of New Zealand’s population, went into a snap lockdown on Aug. 17 after a single case of the Delta variant was identified in the city.
The resulting outbreak has proved impossible to quash, prompting an end to the Covid-zero strategy that for most of the pandemic had allowed New Zealanders to live with few restrictions. The outbreak is largely contained to Auckland.
As of Sunday, more than 90 percent of eligible people ages 12 and older across the Auckland region had received at least one dose of a vaccine, Ms. Ardern said. The government expects to hit its target of 90 percent fully vaccinated around Nov. 29, she added, allowing it to move to a new system in which vaccination certificates will be required to access many services in the city.
“It will mean all businesses can be open and operate, it will mean we will manage Covid safely, but differently,” Ms. Ardern said.
Some health professionals had called for restrictions to remain in place, citing the disproportionate effect of the virus on New Zealand’s Indigenous Maori population, which makes up 37 percent of all cases in the outbreak despite constituting less than 17 percent of the wider population.