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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyNovember 22, 2021

Traffic light system kicks in next week: here’s what you need to know

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

So long, alert levels: Aotearoa will move into the Covid-19 protection framework from Friday, December 3.

Wait, what? I thought that decision was being made on November 29, which is a whole week away. 

Yes, you’d be forgiven for being a little confused. Some background: back in October when the Covid-19 protection framework (AKA the traffic light system) was revealed, the deal was that Auckland would move to red as soon as the eligible populations of each of its three DHBs hit 90% double vaccinated, and the rest of the country would move into orange only when every other DHB had hit the same target.

Or, if that hadn’t happened yet, cabinet would take another look at the situation on November 29. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the prime minister said there was a “strong expectation” Auckland would move into the new system following the November 29 check-in, regardless of its vaccination rates, reaffirming this morning that it would likely be a day or two after. 

As for the rest of the country, last Monday Jacinda Ardern revealed they’d move into the traffic light system at the same time as Auckland, with the exact colour (orange or red) determined by each region’s vaccination rate. 

Then, at today’s post-cabinet press conference, instead of making us wait another week, Ardern decided to let the nation know that yes, the whole country will be moving to the new system at 11.59pm next Thursday, December 2.

So next Friday is the first day of a whole new world, is that correct?

That is correct – in 11 days’ time.

Remind me, what is this traffic light system of which you speak?

Here’s something I prepared earlier.

So what colour will we move into?

For Auckland, it’ll be red. The rest of the country will have to wait another week to find out their setting. “Decisions on what colour each region will move into will be confirmed on 29 November, giving regions time to drive up vaccination rates further,” said Ardern at this afternoon’s press conference.

If you’re hoping for green, it’s not happening, sorry. “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.”

Why did they reveal this date now, rather than wait until next Monday?

“Setting the date now gives people, communities and businesses time to prepare to move safely and smoothly into the new traffic light system,” said Ardern.

“While life will feel relatively normal under the new system, which is simpler and safer than the alert levels, it’s time to get prepared to move.”

What happened to the 90% double vaccination target? 

That was quietly shelved. As our Covid tracker shows, currently, the only district health board to have reached the target is Auckland, with Capital and Coast and Waitematā close behind on 88 and 87 respectively. Counties Manukau, the third Auckland DHB, is not too far off at 85%, along with Canterbury and Southern.

Wait a minute. What happened to those alert-level-three steps Auckland was slowly descending?

Ah yes, ye olde steppes. It began with double-bubble picnics and so on back in early October, then moved to shops and multiple-bubble picnics in early November. Today was when cabinet was to decide whether Tāmaki would shift to step three, meaning hospo and hairdressers could open, but they decided the third step was surplus to requirements – it’s all about the traffic light now. 

Right. Speaking of hairdressers, I’m in Auckland and my barnet is frightful. So I can book in for next Friday?

My friend, I’ve got some good news for you. At this afternoon’s press conference, the prime minister dropped the bombshell revelation (OK, there had been rumours) that Auckland’s hairdressers and barbers can open this very week as a trial run for the vaccine pass system (at both red and orange settings, close-contact businesses can only operate if they use vaccine passes).  

If they operate with vaccine passes, those businesses can open on Thursday, November 25 – but they’ve got to take bookings, so no walk-ins, and all staff must be vaccinated. And no, it doesn’t include beauty salons, so your brows will have to wait.

What is the point of this trial?

To iron out any kinks in the vaccine pass system before we go the whole hog next week. “Hairdressers have been chosen because by default, the scale they operate at, with a limited number of customers at any given time, poses the least risk for the next stage of reopening,” said Ardern.

Is there some sort of whizz-bang hi-tech way those hairdressers can check vaccine passes?

Tomorrow, a verifier app will launch. It’s not mandated for businesses to use it, but it’s a “very useful tool”.

Will I get an appointment for next Thursday if I call my hairdresser right now? 

Not my area of expertise, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Keep going!