New Zealand capital reopens, ending more than three-month lockdown

Bars and restaurants in Auckland, New Zealand, have reopened after almost four months of lockdown as the country eases COVID-19 measures and enters the first phase of its new "traffic light" system.

The new system being implemented is intended to curb the spread of coronavirus while stopping short of lockdowns. It will require that people be fully vaccinated to do certain things, The Associated Press reported.

It quoted Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett as saying that many bar owners were figuring out how to comply with new rules that require employees to check their patrons' vaccine status to enter their establishments. 

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Different parts of New Zealand will be under color-coded designations that determine what rules are to be imposed. The colors correspond to whether there are outbreaks in an area, with "green" areas facing few restrictions, "orange" requiring the wearing of masks and some social distancing, and "red" areas needing to limit the sizes of gatherings to 100 people or less.

Auckland is under the "red" designation.

The discovery of the new omicron variant did not change plans for the reopening, and the government said it was "confident" the new variant hasn't entered New Zealand, according to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

New Zealand decided in November, after heavy criticism from citizens, that vaccination rates were high enough at 87 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated to ease lockdown.

In Auckland, which has been at the center of the nation's outbreak, government data showed that the vaccination rate is over 90 percent. 

Auckland is currently closed off from the rest of New Zealand, and it will reopen borders on Dec. 15, the report added.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged that "delta is here and not going away" and said in November that the country would move away from its "zero COVID" policy to allow businesses and vaccinated people more freedom.