New Zealand Protesters Demand End to COVID-19 Lockdowns, Vaccine Mandates

Thousands of people gathered Tuesday outside of New Zealand’s parliament building in the capital, Wellington, to protest the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 protesters marched through central Wellington carrying signs displaying various anti-mandate slogans, with many waving campaign flags of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Security personnel closed nearly all entrances to the parliament campus and its iconic “Beehive” building during the demonstrations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters inside parliament, “What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders.”

The nation of 5 million people has been among the best in the world at containing the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, largely because New Zealand closed its borders for most of the past 18 months to nonresidents.

The strategy to eliminate COVID-19 worked for the most part, with the nation reporting only 28 deaths over the course of the pandemic. Earlier this year, much of the country had all but returned to normal.

But New Zealand has been battling a rise of new infections triggered by the delta variant since August, prompting Ardern to impose new lockdowns in Auckland, its largest city, and other parts of the country. The new outbreaks also have forced Ardern to change from a strategy of total elimination of COVID-19 to controlling the virus through mass vaccinations.

The government announced a new goal for all doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health care workers to be fully vaccinated by December, with teachers and other education workers required to be fully vaccinated by January.

Additionally, the government has implemented a new “traffic-light” system that would loosen nearly all restrictions once 90% of an area’s population is fully vaccinated.

Ardern announced Monday that the strict lockdown imposed on Auckland will be lifted by the end of November, with some restrictions beginning to ease Tuesday as the city nears 90% vaccination.

England mandate

A vaccine mandate was announced Tuesday in England for employees of the country’s National Health Service. Health minister Sajid Javid said all NHS workers must be vaccinated by April 1 or face termination.

The government previously announced that home care workers must be fully vaccinated by November 11 but waited to extend the mandate to all NHS front-line staff until it reviewed the findings of a consultation with health workers.

Of the 34,000 worker responses, “the scales clearly tip to one side,” Javid said.

“The weight of the data shows our vaccinations have kept people safe and they have saved lives, and that is especially true for vulnerable people in health and care settings,” he added.

France, Italy and some U.S. states have also ordered health workers to get vaccinated.

US aid to states

In the U.S., White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told U.S. governors during a conference call Tuesday that President Joe Biden is extending to April 1, 2022, the federal government's program to fully reimburse states, tribes and territories of their COVID-19 emergency response costs, according to The Associated Press.

The extension will help the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue to support vaccination clinics, educational campaigns about vaccinations and other efforts to combat the pandemic.

The extension of the reimbursements, which also applies to National Guard personnel deployed to help contain the virus, is a sign that declarations of victory over the pandemic in July were premature and that the Biden administration is preparing for continued COVID-19 disruptions well into next year, according to The Associated Press.

Surge in Singapore

Meanwhile, authorities in Singapore announced Monday that beginning December 8, it will no longer pay medical bills for any future COVID-19 patients who are “unvaccinated by choice.”

The city-state currently covers the full medical costs for any Singaporean who tests positive for the virus, as well as permanent residents and long-term visa holders, unless they test positive shortly after returning home from overseas.

But Singapore is currently struggling with a surge of new infections that is threatening to overwhelm its health care system, despite 85% of its eligible population having been fully vaccinated.

The Health Ministry said it will continue to cover partly vaccinated patients until December 31 to allow them time to get their second shots.

Source: Voice of America


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