New Zealand on Friday reported over 12,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day tally since the pandemic began, the Health Ministry said.

The country was hit by the highly transmissible omicron variant in mid-December 2021, which led to a new outbreak.

With 12,024 infections, the country’s total caseload rose to 57,497. A record five related fatalities were also confirmed, raising the death toll to 61.

It follows the government announcement earlier this month to reopen its international borders in phases.

According to the plan, in the first stage, vaccinated New Zealand nationals and eligible people from Australia will be allowed to travel from Feb. 27, while eligible individuals from other countries can enter from March 13.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said only high-risk unvaccinated travelers will be placed in quarantine.

New Zealand’s earlier plan to reopen its borders from mid-January was shelved due to the rapid spread of omicron across the world.

So far, New Zealand has fully vaccinated 94% of its eligible population – people aged 12 and above. Around 68.8% of them have received a booster dose.

The ministry has “strongly” encouraged people to get a booster dose, saying that it “is our best defense against the virus.”

As the omicron outbreak grows, rapid antigen tests are now used as the primary test at all community testing centers.

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