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New Zealand prime minister says country won’t return to lockdowns to battle omicron

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that the country would not adopt strict lockdowns to battle the omicron variant of COVID-19 like it has in the past, The Associated Press reported.

Ardern said that although New Zealand has not seen an outbreak of the omicron variant yet, it is inevitable. 

Those who have been infected with omicron who arrive in New Zealand are immediately required to enter quarantine. 

If a case is detected, the country will adopt “red” setting protocols, which will require masks in schools and limit groups to 100 people.

“This stage of the pandemic is different to what we have dealt with before. Omicron is more transmissible,” said Ardern, according to the wire service. “That is going to make it harder to keep it out, but it will also make it more challenging to control once it arrives. But just like before, when COVID changes, we change.”

“Orange” setting protocols, which most of New Zealand has adopted currently, include mask wearing and proof of vaccination in certain circumstances. There is no limit on crowd sizes.

Ardern encouraged citizens to get booster shots in preparation for omicron, stating that this will reduce crowding of hospitals during an outbreak.

New Zealand is currently seeing around 20 new cases of the delta variant each day. That infection rate is well below that of other countries such as the United States that have been battered by hundreds of thousands of new cases per day due to the omicron variant. 

New Zealand and its neighbor Australia have instituted some of the strictest COVID-19 measures since the beginning of the pandemic that have allowed both countries to maintain relatively low infection and death rates. 

Omicron has spread across the globe after it was first detected in South Africa, but thus far has been shown to produce less severe disease than the delta variant. 

The majority of New Zealand residents aged 12 and up (93 percent) have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 52 percent have received booster shots.

Tags COVID-19 COVID-19 pandemic New Zealand Omicron variant

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