In Auckland, nature was healing. The negligees lined up for their eyebrow dates. Bars open their doors with the promise of free drinks. Locals posted photos of their white dishes and brunch menus. The city sky tower was illuminated for the first day of the reopening of “traffic lights”. And, in perhaps the truest sign that the traffic-ridden city was on its way to normalcy, the southern freeway’s four lanes were bumper to bumper.
The traffic light system, announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the end of November, ends blockages in favor of restrictions on the unvaccinated. The red, orange, and green levels depend on vaccination rates and the level of pressure on the health system, but even at the red level – the most stringent level – businesses are fully open to vaccinees, with some restrictions on the size of facilities. gatherings.
Friday marked the first day of easing Covid restrictions in New Zealand’s largest city, after 107 grueling days of lockdown. For the vaccinated, much of life opened up at midnight on Thursday: they could once again invite family and friends over to their home, plan a trip to the gym, drink in a bar, sit in a cafe, and drink an espresso. . For the small percentage of the country that is still unvaccinated, the divide between them and their fellow New Zealanders has suddenly become tangible.
As the Aucklanders emerged, blinking, into their new freedoms, some felt elated. “There’s such a weird, weird electric vibe in Auckland today,” said breakfast host Matty McLean. on Twitter. “Like the first day back to school! We just went to sit in our local cafe and it was such a simple yet exciting activity! ”
Mayor Phil Goff said it was a “day to celebrate and enjoy” and some Aucklanders have pledged to do so. At the headquarters bar, a man told a reporter from Stuff that being back at the pub was “insane”. “I’m a plumber who loves to rinse my mouth,” he said. “Free drinks, how good it is.”
The opposition said the new freedoms did not go far enough, with National Party Leader Christopher Luxon calling the change “tough news for Auckland bars and restaurants which suffered 100 days of lockdown and will now not be able to most welcome big Christmas and New Years’ events. Others have expressed apprehension – including for workers tasked with checking vaccination passports, for Maori communities, whose vaccination rates remain lower than the rest of the country, and about the divisions caused by increasingly divergent experiences. of vaccinated and unvaccinated New Zealanders.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said claims New Zealand would become a ‘divided nation’ could be countered by high vaccination rates: ‘Getting over 90% of New Zealanders to agree on anything is a very unusual achievement. “
This day marks a key step in the country’s transition from the use of containment as a main public health strategy to the implementation of vaccination. Experts said they couldn’t predict how the newly relaxed restrictions would affect the spread of the virus – but there are some reasons for optimism. Average daily cases in Auckland have stabilized and appear to be starting to decline. The country announced 92 new cases on Friday – the first time the number of daily cases has fallen below 100 since October. Public Health Director Dr Caroline McElnay said the drop in cases was a promising sign that rising vaccination rates in the country were compromising the ability of the virus to spread.
The health ministry said on Thursday that 93% of the eligible population (people aged 12 and older) had received at least a first dose of the vaccine and 86% had received a full dose. Maori remain behind the rest of the population, raising fears that they may bear the brunt of a larger epidemic: 83% of Maori have received a first dose and 69% have been fully immunized.