WELLINGTON — New Zealand is among the few remaining countries to have avoided any outbreaks of the Omicron variant — but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday an outbreak was inevitable and the nation would tighten restrictions as soon as one was detected.

But she also said that New Zealand would not impose the lockdowns that it has used previously, including for the delta variant.

“This stage of the pandemic is different to what we have dealt with before. Omicron is more transmissible,” Ardern said. “That is going to make it harder to keep it out, but it will also make it more challenging to control once it arrives. But just like before, when Covid changes, we change.”

Ardern said that within 24 to 48 hours of Omicron being detected in the community, the nation would move into its “red” setting.

That would allow businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but would require schoolchildren to wear masks and limit crowds to 100 people.

Currently most of New Zealand is at the “orange” setting, which requires some mask wearing and proof of vaccination but doesn’t limit crowd sizes.

About 93 percent of New Zealanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated and 52 percent have had a booster shot.

The country has just begun vaccinating children aged between 5 and 11. (AP)