WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand will adopt a new system of living with the virus from Dec. 3, which will end tough coronavirus measures and allow businesses to operate in its biggest city, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement on Monday.
New Zealand has been unable to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 centred in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon her acclaimed elimination strategy and switch to a system of treating the virus as endemic.
Its biggest city Auckland has been in lockdown for over 90 days, although some measures were eased recently.
"The hard truth is that Delta is here and not going away, but New Zealand is well set to tackle it because of our high vaccination rates and our latest safety measures including the traffic light system and Vaccine Pass," Ardern said.
In the new system, regions will be put into a red, orange or green setting depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Auckland, which is the epicentre of the outbreak, will start at red.
Ardern said about 83% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated now and if all those people who are due for their second shot get it, that number would rise to 88%.
The government previously said the country would drop lockdown measures and move into the new traffic-light system to manage outbreaks after 90% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated.
New Zealand enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations that has helped limit the spread of COVID-19 so far and helped the economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.
The country has so far reported about 7,000 cases in all and 39 deaths. Its international borders still remain shut to the rest of the world.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)