Explainer: The Covid traffic light system

Traffic light Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
New Zealand is just 10 days away from entering its next phase of battling Covid when the whole country moves into the traffic light system at 11.59pm on December 2.

It aims to plot a course for how Kiwis can live with Covid in the community without the health system becoming overwhelmed with people sick or dying from the virus.

It also aims to ensure most Kiwis and businesses can enjoy ongoing freedoms and are not forced back into lockdowns as a way to control Covid's spread.

The system will likely be music to the ears of most Aucklanders who have sacrificially endured months of harsh lockdown restrictions to protect the rest of the country from the virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cabinet had also decided to undertake a trial by allowing hairdressers and barbers in Auckland to open from Thursday this week to vaccinated people.

She said the trial period for vaccine passes at hairdressers and barbers was to ensure the transition into the new system went as smoothly as possible the following week.

Currently, Auckland is in an alert level 3.2 setting.

The traffic light system may also lead to those who are unvaccinated and currently living outside of Auckland in alert level 2 areas enjoying fewer freedoms than they do now.

They may soon find themselves locked out of gyms, restaurants and major sporting and music events.

When does the traffic light system start?

The traffic light system starts at 11.59pm on December 2, but in reality it will apply to most people from December 3.

Decisions on what colour each region will move into will be confirmed on November 29, giving regions time to drive up vaccination rates further.

"As previously said, Auckland will enter at red. The settings for other regions will be based on factors like vaccination levels, but Cabinet has already confirmed that no region will start at green while we are transitioning and managing a current outbreak," Ardern said.

Health authorities have had a re-think about people in managed isolation getting out for some...
Auckland will move into the red colour - the setting with the toughest restrictions - primarily because of its high number of Covid cases. Photo: Getty Images
Auckland will move into the red colour - the setting with the toughest restrictions - primarily because of its high number of Covid cases.

Regions with low vaccination rates, such as Northland, can likely expect to also be put into the red colour and its tougher restrictions.

These regions may be able to move to orange or green restrictions as their vaccination levels improved, Ardern has said.

In short, what does the traffic light system mean for me if I'm vaccinated?

While Aucklanders have been locked up for months - unable to go to the gym or dine-in at their favourite restaurant during the latest outbreak - that is supposed to be a thing of the past under traffic light system.

Under all traffic light settings, events, restaurants, bars, gyms and hairdressers are expected to be able to remain open.

That is, provided they use a vaccine certificate to ensure only vaccinated people are using their services.

Ardern said a vaccinated person would likely feel no different under the orange and green settings.

Only under the red setting do events and gyms become limited as they have to restrict the number of people in attendance to 100 or fewer, while hairdressers also have to maintain stricter public health measures.

In short, what does the traffic light system mean for me if I'm not vaccinated?

If you are not vaccinated, the traffic light system will likely feel like a level 3 lockdown.

For those currently living outside of Auckland and enjoying level 2 freedoms that will mean life is about to get much more restricted.

Events, restaurants, hairdressers and cafes that use vaccine certificates will not be able to accept you into their stores.

And events, restaurants, hairdressers and cafes that do not use vaccine certificates will not be allowed to open at all under the red and orange settings - except to offer takeaway food only in the case of restaurants and cafes.

Gatherings at funerals and weddings will be limited to 10 people under the red setting and 50 people under the orange setting.

Under the green setting, events, gyms and restaurants will be able to open without vaccine certificates but there will be restrictions on how many people can be in attendance.

The traffic light system in more detail

Red

Red will be used when there is an outbreak and the health system is facing an "unsustainable number of hospitalisations".

Unlike at current alert levels, everything will be allowed to remain open during an outbreak.

Hospitality will be open but patrons must be seated and separated. There will be a 100-person cap. Gyms and hairdressers will be allowed to remain open. These will all require a vaccine certificate.

Gatherings, including weddings, funerals, places of worship and marae, will be limited to 100 people based on 1m spacing if vaccination certificates are used. They will be limited to 10 people if they are not used.

People will still be encouraged to work from home.

For places where vaccination certificates are not used, settings similar to alert level 3 will apply, like contactless retail and hospitality.

Scanning in or record keeping continues to be required and masks are mandatory on flights, public transport, taxis, retail and public venues. It is recommended they are worn whenever leaving the house.

Orange

The orange level will indicate a limited outbreak, but there is an "increasing" risk to at-risk populations. The health system is "focusing resources" on Covid, but it can still manage as a whole.

For businesses that use vaccination certificates, there will be no numerical caps but some public health measures such as distancing, which will effectively cap numbers.

Schools are open, but there are public health measures. Gatherings, churches and marae will be able to operate as normal if they use vaccination certificates.

Scanning in or record keeping continues to be required and masks are mandatory on flights, public transport, taxis, retail and public venues. It is recommended they are worn whenever leaving the house.

Green

Green will mean effectively no public health measures. It is for when there is limited community transmission.

For businesses that use vaccination certificates, there are no limits on hospitality or gatherings.

For places where vaccination certificates are not used, restrictions like masking will be required and there will be caps of 100 people on hospitality and gatherings.

Scanning in or record keeping continues to be required and face coverings are mandatory on flights. People are encouraged to wear masks in indoor settings.

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