WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Tuesday that it will start using COVID-19 vaccine certificates as proof of inoculation at large events and other high-risk settings from next month, as the country battles the spread of the Delta variant.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who on Monday abandoned a long-standing strategy of eliminating coronavirus in the face of a persistent Delta outbreak, said the certificates would help ensure large gatherings such as music festivals did not become superspreader events.
“We will use them (vaccine certificates) as a tool to lessen risks at what are currently considered as high risk settings, including large scale events,” Ardern said at a news conference, urging people to bring forward their vaccination plans.
“These are now common overseas and they make good sense,” she said, adding that they were unlikely to be needed in places like health services and supermarkets.
New Zealand was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in mid-August frustrated efforts to stamp out transmission.
The country will now use vaccinations and testing to control the spread of the virus, with experts warning the change will lead to a rise in cases.
New Zealand recorded 24 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, taking the total number of infections in the current outbreak to 1,381. About 48% of the adult population is currently fully vaccinated.
The largest city of Auckland, which has been in lockdown for nearly 50 days, will remain on a high alert level, although its 1.7 million people will be allowed some extra freedoms from Wednesday.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)