New Zealand reports record new COVID-19 cases with 243

Officials warned more cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant are expected in New Zealand, but urged people in the highly vaccinated nation not to panic.

New Zealand reported a record 243 new COVID-19 community cases on Saturday, as officials warned more cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant are expected but urged people in the highly vaccinated nation not to panic.

The country of 5 million people has kept its borders closed since early 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday a full reopening will happen only by October.

The border closure, combined with lockdowns and strict social distancing rules have limited the spread of the coronavirus, with just more than 17,000 infections and 53 related deaths.

But with omicron spreading in the Pacific nation, health officials said the caseload will grow.

“I urge people not to panic but to plan for that,” said COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins. “The best thing you can do to prevent illness is to get vaccinated and get your booster.”

Health ministry data show 93% of those eligible above the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated and 49% of eligible adults have received a booster shot.

In neighboring Australia, which has been struggling with an omicron wave for several weeks, 81 deaths were reported by late Saturday, with Queensland reporting 21, the state’s highest in the pandemic.

An estimated 2,000 people protested in Canberra, Australia’s capital, against vaccination mandates and other restrictions.

Vaccinations remain voluntary at the federal level, but states and territories have mandatory measures for many occupations and workers. The unvaccinated are barred from many activities, such as dining out and concerts.

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