The outbreak has grown to more than 1,300 cases, with 29 more detected on Monday. A few cases have been found outside of Auckland.
Ardern said that seven weeks of lockdown restrictions in Auckland had helped keep the outbreak under control.
"For this outbreak, it's clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases," Ardern said. “But that is OK. Elimination was important because we didn't have vaccines. Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things."
New Zealand began its vaccination campaign slowly compared to most other developed nations. Rates rocketed in August after the outbreak began but have dropped off significantly again since then.
About 65% of New Zealanders have had at least one dose and 40% are fully vaccinated. Among people age 12 and older, about 79% have had at least a single jab.
Under Ardern's plan that starts Tuesday, Aucklanders will be able to meet outdoors with loved ones from one other household, early childhood centers will reopen and people will be able to go to the beach.
The dates for a phased reopening of retail stores and later bars and restaurants have yet to be decided.
Ardern said the elimination strategy had served the country incredibly well but the government always intended to eventually transition to the protection of vaccines, a change hastened by the delta variant “game changer."
The government's elimination approach had been broadly supported by New Zealanders but was facing increasing criticism. Over the weekend, hundreds of people turned out to rallies protesting the lockdown.
Opposition lawmaker Chris Bishop said the government had no clear strategy to deal with the outbreak other than total surrender.
But Ardern said that most measures would remain in place to keep the outbreak under control, including exhaustive contact tracing and isolating those who got infected.
“There's good cause for us to feel optimistic about the future," Ardern said. “But we cannot rush." (AP) CPS
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