Will traffic lights work for Sth Island?

The road map is on the seat next to you. The toolbox is tucked in the boot next to the picnic hamper. And now — isn’t it just typical? — some traffic lights have appeared on the horizon.

This journey through the Covidlands is not an easy one. Despite efforts to smooth and streamline the route, it still seems like a perplexing maze of bypasses, ring roads and on-and off-ramps hamper progress.

Yesterday’s latest announcements by the Government were meant to simplify the Covid-19 landscape and the route to life beyond alert levels and lockdowns. Instead, the new system of traffic lights — we seem to be stuck in this rut of motoring jargon — appears pretty confusing and to come from the school of ‘‘yet another victory for style over substance’’.

There is not much on offer for the South Island that is readily apparent. That continues the trend in recent weeks of the Government having little to say about our Covid-19-less island and how it could be opened up again ahead of affected parts of the North Island.

After all, even parts of Australia want Covid-free southerners back, although the requirement for mandatory isolation on their return rather puts the mockers on that invitation.

There were a few good things to come out of the announcement, which was soon followed by grim news of another 129 new community cases. The first was the Government’s commitment to that aspiration of getting 90% of eligible Kiwis fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

Every percentage point we can reach above that level will make a huge difference to the numbers of — largely unvaccinated — people who are going to require hospital treatment or intensive-care facilities, or who will unfortunately die, from the Delta variant in the months ahead.

Targeted funding to lift Maori vaccination rates is also the right move, although it would seem to be a bit late in the day. That is especially the case when, with so many Maori having underlying chronic health conditions and poorer health outcomes, they should probably have been first in line for jabs.

Vaccine certificates also feature largely in these latest pronouncements, although the details of these remains unclear.

These certificates are going to be a crucial component of freer life after the demise of current alert level system and its lockdowns, although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will reserve the right to deploy localised lockdowns if necessary.

And then we come to the new traffic-light system.

It was always going to be problematic to phase in a new alert structure to replace the one Kiwis have learnt to live with for 18 months.

That is particularly when the integrity of the easy-to-follow original had been slowly broken down with the introduction of sub-levels to account for the infectiousness of the Delta variant and the necessity of making Aucklanders feel like they weren’t going to be in a Level 4 lockdown forever.

Soon there will be three levels — red, orange and green. Movement from the current system to the traffic lights depends on district health boards reaching the 90% fully vaccinated threshold.

The prime minister said the Government was open to moving the South Island to the orange level ahead of the rest of the country, when all its DHBs have reached 90%. But orange is basically the same as the current Level 2, except for no limits on numbers if vaccination certificates are used.

The trouble with this is one lagging DHB area could easily hold the rest of the island up. And individuals have little or no sway when it comes to how other districts perform.

On initial analysis, it seems like the traffic lights idea will hardly change the fortunes of the currently Covid-free South Island.

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