The Government has announced the next phase of its Covid-19 response plan. The elimination strategy and Alert Level System is ending, and New Zealand will instead look to co-exist with the virus and move forward with a highly vaccinated population under a new Traffic Light System (known as the "Covid-19 Protective Framework"), expected to commence early December.
The Traffic Light System has three colours – red, orange, and green. Each region will be set a colour which will be actively monitored and possibly changed, depending on the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the community, as well as vaccination and hospitalisation rates for that region. The Government has made it clear that the lower the vaccination rates in a region, the more likely it will be designated as red.
Those at red will face the toughest settings and those at green will face the least. The orange setting will be somewhat in the middle. Most businesses can remain open at all colours, including retail and schools. Though, in the red setting working from home is encouraged and regional boundary restrictions may apply.
There are also strict vaccination requirements associated with each colour. The list of businesses that require customers, visitors and staff to be vaccinated will grow as the traffic light system shifts up from green, to orange, to red. Any businesses that decide to opt out of the vaccine certificate scheme will face restrictions and may not be able to open, depending on the traffic light colour in effect at the time. Equally, it means that those choosing not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 will continue to face serious restrictions. For example, in the orange setting, an unvaccinated person will not be able to visit a close contact business (such as a hairdresser). They will also not be able to attend, among other things, gyms, weddings or funerals.
This is a dramatic change from the Government's current approach, and it should allow businesses to enjoy ongoing freedoms without the fear of being forced back into a lockdown. However, it is important that every business in New Zealand understands its obligations under this new system and also the risks associated with not using vaccine passes and non-compliance, prior to it coming into force.
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