The confinement in place in Auckland for three and a half months, will be lifted on December 3. An announcement made yesterday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
His government wants to adopt a new strategy to fight the coronavirus, aimed at containing the Delta variant rather than attempting to eliminate it completely.
“The hard truth is that (the variant) Delta is here and is not going to go away,” she told reporters.
“While no country has succeeded in eliminating the Delta variant completely, New Zealand is in a better position than most to tackle it.”
Until now, his government has aimed for a complete elimination of the virus, a so-called “zero-Covid” policy, with strict containment measures, rigorous traceability of contacts and strict border controls.
The disease has killed only 40 people in a population of five million but pressure has increased to end the lockdown imposed on Auckland since the Delta variant was detected there in August.
Ms Ardern had initially planned to change policy once a 90% immunization rate was reached in the country, but eventually brought forward the reopening when the immunization level is currently around 83%.
The new system is presented as traffic lights, the green signifying virtually no control of the virus, the orange requiring the wearing of the mask in certain places while the red allows the businesses to remain open to only vaccinated customers and observing a distancing social.
Auckland will initially be placed in red, the prime minister said, adding that authorities are still in the process of classifying the other areas.
Auckland is currently isolated from the rest of New Zealand, with roadblocks to be lifted on December 15. Strict quarantine rules for international arrivals will remain in place, but Ms Ardern has pledged to ease them early next year.