Brave new orange and red world

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand enters a fresh Covid era on Friday as the Government parks its “levels” and moves into the traffic light “protection” system.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced late yesterday afternoon that much of the country, including the South, will proceed cautiously on orange. Auckland, where the Delta variant is widespread, sits on red as do various other North Island districts.

Regular traffic light reviews, beginning in a fortnight, are promised.

There is, however, no prospect of green until next year. This is appropriate because care is required as Aucklanders — whether they are vaccinated or with a negative test — spread around the country from December 15.

The previous levels were well communicated and, at least initially, relatively simple. They helped New Zealand navigate the pandemic last year.

By contrast, the traffic lights have been criticised as too complicated. Although what they mean will take getting used to, they will allow more nuance. Crucially, they allow greater freedoms for the vaccinated.

The best evidence points clearly to the benefits of vaccination for individuals, the wider population and the health service.

Nearly 90% of the eligible population has taken the sensible course. The traffic light system gives them greater freedoms.

The division into two classes — the vaccinated and unvaccinated — should be acknowledged as far from ideal. The unvaccinated have considerably fewer rights and greater restrictions.

The Government’s last-minute legislation on the matter last week, and the lack of scrutiny it therefore received, should also be recognised as a serious and worrying failure.

This division is no small matter. Neither are the vaccine job mandates. They breach individual rights and are a form of coercion.

Nevertheless, rights must be balanced. Citizens exchange state coercive powers for protection of themselves and others.

The state decrees, when it comes to traffic, for example, that everyone must drive on the left of the road. That promotes both our personal safety and the safety of others.

We withdraw liberties when we put people in prison. We even sent young men to their deaths under conscription in two world wars.

Just as the jab for the job is justified to protect others, so also are restricted freedoms under orange and red for the unvaccinated.

Despite the misinformation, the best advice from the best qualified strongly shows the unvaccinated are more likely to catch Covid and to spread the disease. They are also much more likely to be hospitalised and to die.

There is no denying the genuine fears and convictions among those rejecting what they should accept. Fair enough. But the consequences of their choices for both employment and under the traffic light system are proportionate.

The South can be proud of its high vaccination rates, and these have been recognised in the orange status.

It could well be rates climb further as the tardy stop procrastinating and the stubborn give a little.

No doubt, many questions will arise for organisations large and small as well as businesses and individuals.

The likes of the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic will be also making decisions on widening compulsory vaccination and adapting to the traffic light future.

The issue of how checking and enforcement of vaccination passports is effectively carried out is still to be properly sorted.

How outbreaks are handled and the possibility of localised lockdowns is still to play out.

As well, the threat of the Omicron variant is looming. How significant it will be and how it might upset the best-laid plans is not yet known. The Covid future will also throw up all sorts of other curveballs.

In the meantime, the Government and all of us must play what is in front of us, while being flexible and being prepared for further change.

For now, that means life under orange as well as the prospect of a further spread of Delta as vaccinated Aucklanders are set free in just over two weeks.