New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that the country will adopt a new method for living with the coronavirus virus starting on December 3, removing tough restrictions and allowing businesses to operate in the country's largest city.

New Zealand was essentially COVID-19-free until August, but an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant forced Ardern to abandon an elimination strategy and treat the virus as endemic.

Auckland, the country's largest city, has been under lockdown for more than 90 days, though some restrictions have recently been eased.

"The hard truth is that Delta is here to stay, but thanks to our high vaccination rates and new safety measures like the traffic light system and Vaccine Pass, New Zealand is well positioned to combat it," Ardern said.

Will New Zealand's COVID-19 Success Re-Elect Jacinda Ardern? | Time

The new approach will assign a colour to each region based on their level of COVID-19 exposure and vaccination rates. Auckland, the epicentre of the Delta outbreak, will go into red alert mode, requiring face masks and restricting public gatherings.

Approximately 83% of eligible New Zealanders are completely vaccinated, with 88% having received their first injection, Ardern said.

The government previously stated that after 90% of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated, the country would no longer need lockdown measures and instead use a traffic-light system to handle outbreaks. 

New Zealand imposed some of the strictest pandemic restrictions among OECD countries, restricting the spread of COVID-19 and allowing the country's economy to recover faster than many of its rivals.

In total, roughly 7,000 cases have been reported in the country of 5 million people, with only 39 deaths. Its international border remains closed, with no indication of when it will reopen.