Professor Baker helped devise the country’s elimination strategy. He said that despite early fears that severe lockdowns would irreparably damage the economy, New Zealand’s approach had proved that the best economic response was a strong public health response, including a blitz of testing, contact tracing and quarantining.
Much of the rest of the Western world, Professor Baker added, has “adopted the approach of complacent exceptionalism — that they wouldn’t get the virus, or it wouldn’t be as severe as they thought, and the pandemic has proved them wrong.”
In Auckland, where gatherings had been restricted to 100 people and masks had been mandated on public transport, the rules were eased at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday. People are no longer required to wear masks in public, but must continue to sign in at and keep records of locations they visit, maintain good hygiene practices and, if unwell, remain at home and get tested for the virus. The national border remains closed to almost all travelers except New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.
While residents said they were relieved, they did not expect an immediate return to normal life.
“People have stayed in their suburbs and supported their local restaurants, so where in the past I was in a really good spot, now not so much,” said Yael Shochat, who has run Ima Cuisine, a restaurant in downtown Auckland, for almost two decades.
“But the most important thing is we have eliminated the virus again, and that makes people confident to come out,” Ms. Shochat said. “I’m hoping that as Christmas comes, people will really want to go out and party — it’s been a horrible year.”
Others said they had been frustrated at restrictions that seemed too stringent, preventing them from applying for visas or doing work considered nonessential by the government. And some who acknowledged that the measures were necessary said they felt that not enough had been done to assist them.