New Zealand says it will soon require most of its healthcare workers and teachers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The new vaccine mandate, announced on Monday, compels doctors, pharmacists, community nurses and other healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by December.
Teachers and other workers in the education sector must be fully vaccinated by January.
“We can’t leave anything to chance so that’s why we are making it mandatory,” said Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s education minister who is also in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response.
”It’s not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven’t yet been vaccinated to take this extra step,” he added.
New Zealand already requires many people who work at the border to be vaccinated.
The vaccine mandate comes as health authorities reported 35 new cases, all of them in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland.
The city has been under tough COVID restrictions since mid-August when authorities detected one case of community transmission.
Curbs in Auckland were extended for a further week on Monday.
There have been a total of 1,622 cases in the current outbreak.
The persistent infections, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, forced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government to abandon its longstanding strategy of “COVID Zero”.
The country is now looking to live with the virus through higher vaccinations.
“New Zealand is at one of the trickiest and most challenging moments in the COVID-19 pandemic so far,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington on Monday.
However, “there is a clear path forward” in the next few months to live with fewer curbs, she said, once the country reaches a higher level of vaccinations.
About 2.38 million New Zealanders have so far been fully vaccinated, or about 57 percent of the eligible population, with officials promising to end lockdowns once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated.
The initial responses from groups representing affected workers were in favour of the mandate.
“Given the speed at which Delta is spreading throughout our country, this is a bold, but necessary call to make,” said Dr Samantha Murton, president of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
In a bid to encourage vaccinations, the government is planning a “Super Saturday” vaccination drive this weekend that it likens to an election day, when vaccination centres will be open throughout the day and into the evening.
The government also announced on Monday an advanced purchase agreement for 60,000 courses of an experimental new pill by drug maker Merck, pending approval by New Zealand regulators.
The pill, molnupiravir, would be the first shown to treat COVID-19, if it is approved by regulators including the US Food and Drug Administration.