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New Zealand moved to Covid-19 'red' alert on Sunday. Picture: BLOOMBERG
New Zealand moved to Covid-19 'red' alert on Sunday. Picture: BLOOMBERG

New Zealand will tighten Covid-19 restrictions as Omicron takes hold in the community, forcing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to cancel her upcoming wedding.

The South Pacific nation will move to a “red” setting just before midnight, Ardern said at a news conference on Sunday in Wellington. At this stage there is no date set for a review of those settings and “everyone should plan to be in red for some weeks”, she said.

New Zealand has been bracing for an outbreak of the highly infectious variant as increasing numbers of cases were identified at border isolation facilities. The government has delayed a phased reopening of the border to keep Omicron out while it rushes to administer booster vaccination shots and begin inoculating children. While 93% of adults are now fully vaccinated, the evidence from neighbouring Australia shows that Omicron will still lead to a surge in infections.

“Our strategy is to slow the spread of Omicron down,” Ardern told reporters. “We know we will see far more cases than we have in the two years of the pandemic to date. But the difference to previous outbreaks is that we are vaccinated and we are even better prepared.”

The government’s response was triggered by confirmation that a family from the South Island city of Nelson, who recently visited Auckland, has Omicron, and that there is no evidence linking them to the border.

The move to the “red” settings will include more mask-wearing, gathering limits and increased distancing requirements at hospitality outlets. It’s not a lockdown, with businesses able to remain open and people allowed to travel freely. No regional lockdowns are being considered, Ardern said.

A gathering limit of 100 people at sporting or private events means weddings and funerals need to be re-assessed, she said.

“As for mine, my wedding will not be going ahead but I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic,” Ardern said, without elaborating when her nuptials were planned for. “Such is life.”

Ardern encouraged more people to get a booster vaccination before Omicron takes hold. About 56% of those eligible have had the third shot “but we need to get that number higher, quicker”, she said.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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