Green light for new system

Southern leaders are welcoming the certainty a new traffic light system will bring for businesses despite lingering questions about how vaccine passports are going to work.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday the new Covid-19 traffic light system would start for all of New Zealand at 11.59pm on December 2.

Auckland, still experiencing a significant outbreak, will go straight into the top red setting, while the rest of the country’s fate will be determined by the Cabinet on Monday

Ms Ardern said vaccinated people could lead an ordinary life across the system and generally all that varied from colour to colour were rules for large gatherings.

Vaccine passports would allow businesses to operate under a red setting as though they were under something similar to level 2.

At a green setting, there would be effectively no public health measures for places that required vaccine passports.

From now, lockdowns were expected to be rare.

Business South chief executive Mike Collins said the traffic light system appeared to be a pathway to a new normal.

‘‘Just having some dates and having some clarity around the framework is actually a really positive thing,’’ Mr Collins said yesterday.

‘‘The detail of how it’s operationally rolled out is really important and that’s something that’s not really clear yet.

‘‘We want to work with Government to make sure this is successful.’’

Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML) chief executive Terry Davies said the certainty the system offered was good news for anyone promoting, running or hosting events.

‘‘This isn’t just about us, this is about those that are bringing content to the stadium,’’ he said. ‘‘Any positive news gives confidence to those that are going to start to bring and organise major events for us.’’

Hospitality Association of New Zealand’s Otago president Mark Scully said everyone in the sector was welcoming more freedom but there was concern over how the new system would be administered.

He feared the Government had yet to work out the details itself, let alone pass those details on to the hospitality sector.

It was unclear what sort of software would be needed to scan vaccine passports or whether vax passes needed to be checked at a point of entry or the point of purchase, he said.

‘‘If we can see how the system works and understand our role in that, that’d be great, but until such time as that is communicated there will certainly be some uncertainty as to how it will work.’’

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said the Queenstown Lakes district remained in pretty bad shape and he questioned whether there was a difference between a vaccinated Covid-free visitor from Auckland, or one from Sydney, or Melbourne.

But for now, the move to a traffic light system was appropriate and welcome, Mr Boult said.

It was good to have a bit of notice, as well, as businesses geared up again to get ready for increased trade.

‘‘We cannot stay in isolation forever,’’ Mr Boult said.

‘‘As the DHB indicated this morning, it is inevitable that Covid will spread around New Zealand: most of the North Island’s got it, it’s now in parts of the South Island, and the trick is to be as highly vaccinated as we possibly can be.’’

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said the new traffic light system would make it much clearer to people what they were sacrificing by choosing not to be vaccinated.

If Dunedin started out in the orange setting, vaccinated people here would be able to choose a fairly unconstrained life from the end of next week, Mr Hawkins said.

Ms Ardern said it was important people prepared for New Zealand’s move into the traffic light system.

‘‘The hard truth is that Delta is here and it is not going away,’’ Ms Ardern said yesterday.

District health board vaccination levels would play a key determining factor for which regions go into red and which go into orange.

‘‘We will look at ... vaccine rates, we will look at case rates, and that will be the major determining factor but we’ll also be pragmatic.

‘‘If you’ve hit 90% first dose is a good indication of where you’re heading.’’

The Government will provide extra guidance for businesses to prepare.

An assessment toolkit will be released for those businesses which want to require their staff to be vaccinated.

The verifier app for businesses that require proof of the vaccine pass for entry will be launched today.

Businesses will not be required to use it, but it will be useful, she said.

Of yesterday’s 205 new cases, 175 were in Auckland, one in Palmerston North, 20 in the Waikato, five in the Bay of Plenty, one in Taupo and four in Northland.

There were 3,509,363 people fully vaccinated yesterday, 83% of the eligible population. — Additional reporting RNZ