SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand scrapped mask wearing rules and vaccine mandates on Monday, bringing an end to some of the toughest COVID-19 pandemic rules in the world about two years after they were put in place.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a weekly news conference that it was time to safely turn the page on the country's COVID-19 management and live without the extraordinary measures it previously used.
"Finally, rather than feeling that COVID dictates what happens to us, our lives, and our futures, we take back control," Ardern said.
"For the first time in two years we can approach summer with the much needed certainty New Zealanders and business need, helping to drive greater economic activity critical to our economic recovery," she added.
All mask wearing requirements were removed, except in healthcare and aged care facilities. Only COVID-19 positive individuals will be required to isolate for seven days, while household contacts no longer need to, the government said in a statement.
All government vaccine mandates will also be scrapped on Sept. 26, Ardern said, adding that employers will now decide whether or not they require their workforce to be vaccinated.
The government will also remove all vaccination requirements for incoming travellers and air crew.
New Zealand's swift response to the pandemic, tough pandemic rules, and its geographic isolation kept it largely free from the virus until the end of last year.
The government dropped its zero-COVID policy this year once the population was largely vaccinated. Since then the virus has been allowed to spread. There has been 1,950 deaths and about 1.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
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