29 March 2022

Government announces key changes to its COVID-19 response: What you need to know

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Employers should reassess workplace vaccination policies to ensure they will achieve the aim of staff health and safety.
New Zealand Employment and HR
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On 23 March 2022, the Government announced that several key changes would be made to the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order (Protection Framework), COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 (Vaccinations Order) and COVID-19 Public Health Response (Specified Work) Order (Specified Work Order). Here is what you need to know:

Protection Framework

Vaccine passes will no longer be required after 11.59pm on 4 April 2022. However, individual businesses may choose to continue to use vaccine passes. Notably, however, the Government reserved its right to reinstate vaccine passes in the future.

Additionally, from 11.59pm on 25 March 2022, at Red:

  1. There will be no limits for food and drink businesses or for outdoor activities, such as gatherings and events, although, there will be a 200 person capacity limit for indoor gatherings and events
  2. Masks will not be required outdoors, however, all other mask rules will remain unchanged
  3. There will no longer be a requirement to scan in or for businesses to display QR codes.

From 11.59pm on 25 March 2022, at Orange:

  1. There will be no limits for indoor or outdoor gatherings
  2. There will be a new requirement for workers to wear masks at indoor events
  3. Masks will not be required to be worn outdoors, however all other mask rules will remain unchanged
  4. There will no longer be a requirement to scan in or for business to display QR codes

There will be no changes to Green.

Some of the finer details of these changes are, at present, unclear, however it is hoped that the formal amendments to the Protection Framework will provide great clarity for businesses.

Vaccinations Order and Specified Work Order

From 11.59pm on 4 April 2022, the Vaccinations Order and Specified Work Order will be amended to exclude some groups of workers whose roles are currently subject to a vaccination mandate. In particular, the education sector, under the Vaccinations Order, and Police and New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) workers, under the Specified Worker Order, will no longer be required to be vaccinated in order to perform their roles.

Significantly though, the Prime Minister did say that it will still be open to schools, for example, to determine that after having conducted a health and safety risk assessment certain roles must be performed by vaccinated persons. Similarly, the Prime Minister said that NZDF may determine that some of its staff must be fully vaccinated to perform their role - such as those who are likely to be deployed - given the heighten risk to health and safety associated with deployment.

The Prime Minister also stated that discussions were underway regarding a possible narrowing of the Vaccinations Order, as it relates to the health sector and corrections workers, signalling that further changes may soon be upon us.

What does this mean for my workplace vaccination policy?

Despite having stated that some of the Government mandates would be repealed in the coming weeks, the Prime Minister has made it clear that it will remain open to businesses to conclude that certain roles can only be performed by a fully vaccinated person, after having conducted a health and safety risk assessment.

The Prime Minister further announced that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will be releasing guidance for the private sector to assist it in understanding what these changes in the Government's COVID-19 response means for it. It is hoped that this guidance will provide employers with some much-needed clarity as to how they should manage the numerous competing rights and obligations at play in this fast-changing and novel environment.

In any event, we recommend that employers reassess their vaccination policies and determine whether the policy is objectively justified and achieves the legitimate aim of staff health and safety.

This area continues to be complex and specific legal advice is recommended. The situation will continue to evolve.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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