(Reuters) -New Zealand will require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, as she extended restrictions in Auckland, its largest city, for another week.
New Zealand is fighting the highly infectious Delta outbreak that forced it to abandon its long-standing strategy of eliminating the new coronavirus amid persistent infections and is looking to live with the virus through higher vaccinations.
“New Zealand is at one of the trickiest and most challenging moments in the COVID-19 pandemic so far,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington. Ardern, however, said “there is a clear path forward” in the next few months to live with fewer curbs and more freedoms once the country reaches a higher level of vaccinations.
About 2.38 million New Zealanders have so far been fully vaccinated, or about 57% of the eligible population, with officials promising to end lockdowns once 90% of the eligible population is vaccinated.
Health and disability sector workers will have to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1, while school and early learning staff must get their two doses by Jan. 1, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
The decision of mandatory vaccinations comes as New Zealand reported 35 new cases, all of them in Auckland, down from 60 on Sunday, taking the total cases in the current outbreak to 1,622.
Having largely controlled the virus last year, New Zealand has recorded just over 4,600 cases and 28 deaths.
Some 1.7 million people in Auckland entered into a lockdown in mid-August in an effort to stamp out the Delta outbreak, the first major spate of community cases in the country since early in the pandemic.
Authorities last week eased some curbs in Auckland including leaving homes to connect with loved ones outdoors, with a limit of 10 people, as well as go to beaches and parks.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)