New Zealand is among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of the omicron variant. But, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says an outbreak is inevitable and the nation would tighten restrictions as soon as one was detected.
She also said Thursday that New Zealand would not impose the lockdowns that it has used previously. About 93% of New Zealanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated and 52% have had a booster shot.
The country has just begun vaccinating children aged between 5 and 11. New Zealand has managed to contain the spread of the delta variant, with an average of about 20 new cases a day. But it has seen an increasing number of arrivals in mandatory quarantine who are infected with omicron.
"This stage of the pandemic is different to what we have dealt with before. Omicron is more transmissible," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday as NPR reported. "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," the prime minister said.
Prime Minister Ardern said that the country would move to its "red" setting within 24 to 48 hours of the detection of the omicron variant. Businesses would be allowed to remain open and domestic travel would be allowed to continue, while crowds would be limited to 100 people and schoolchildren would be required to wear a mask, NPR reported.