Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyNovember 29, 2021

The traffic light settings for each region revealed

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

The prime minister has announced which areas will be in orange and which will be at the stricter red setting when Aotearoa moves into the traffic light system on Friday.

What’s all this then?

This time a week ago, the government announced that the Covid-19 protection framework (aka the traffic light system) would kick in for the whole country at 11.59pm on December 2, but we’d have to wait until today to learn which regions would go to red and which to orange. (Other than Auckland, that is –  we got an early heads up that, unsurprisingly, the epicentre of the outbreak would be in red.)

So other than Tāmaki Makaurau, where’s red?

Northland, Taupō and Rotorua Lakes Districts, Kawerau, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki Districts, Gisborne District, Wairoa District, Rangitikei, Whanganui and Ruapehu Districts. It’s basically the whole top of the North Island and a big chunk of its middle.

And orange?

The rest of the North Island – that includes the Waikato region, Hauraki, Thames-Coromandel, Waitomo, the Taranaki region, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatū, Horowhenua, Tararua, Wairarapa, the Kāpiti Coast and the Wellington and Hutt regions – and the entire South Island.

Where are the boundaries between these regions?

They’re the existing local government boundaries – here’s a handy map made by our head of data, Harkanwal Singh.

And here's a searchable table:

How was each region's setting decided?

“The factors considered when setting the colours in each region include vaccination, the state of the health system, testing, contact tracing and case management capacity, as well as the rate and effect of Covid-19 transmission," said Jacinda Ardern via a statement, adding that vulnerable populations were also taken into account.

That explains why regions such as Gisborne are going to red – it's had no confirmed Covid cases in the delta outbreak (despite a positive wastewater result earlier in the month), but vaccination rates are the lowest in the country.

Some regions aren't so easy to explain: Waikato has 260 active cases (10 new today), and its vaccination levels are in the bottom half of DHBs, but it's going to orange. This is in line with the decision to move the region to alert level two a couple of weeks ago, when the government said it believed the outbreak there was under control. Case numbers have remained steady since then.

Is this bad news for Rhythm & Vines?

Yes (see event rules for red below).

So the entire South Island is orange?

Yes. One big block of orange, resembling perhaps an orange Fruju that melted a bit on the way home from the dairy and you put it in the freezer and it refroze a little warped.

Right. Will people be able to move between orange and red regions?

Auckland notwithstanding, yes – there will be no boundaries. Auckland's current boundary will remain, to be loosened on December 15 (those in Auckland can travel if fully vaccinated or they've had a negative test within 72 hours of departure), until January 17 (after which there will be no restrictions at all).

When will these traffic light settings be reviewed?

On Monday, December 13 (that's two weeks away), cabinet will review settings and provide an update on any changes. After that, there won't be another update until January 17, then they will continue on a fortnightly basis.

So could some regions go down to green in a couple of weeks?

In a word, no. At this afternoon's press conference, the prime minister ruled out moving any region to green before January 17, largely because of the uncertainty of what the effects of loosening Auckland's borders will be.

Could some regions currently in red go down to orange?

It's not impossible, but it's unlikely cabinet will be keen to make any big changes before the summer holiday period for the reasons identified above.

Could you give me a quick rundown of the key differences between the red and orange settings?

I can. Advice has changed a little since our earlier explainer, so here's a quick TLDR (you can check out the official rundown here).

Schools and ECE

Open at both red and orange, with public health measures in place. At red only, masks are mandatory for Year 4 and above. (NB: In Auckland, schools and ECE will continue in the settings they reopened at under alert level three, step two, ie a mix of at-home and on-site learning, for the remainder of the school year).

Tertiary education

Can open at orange with public health measures in place. If vaccine certificates are used, can open at red with capacity limits based on 1m distancing. If vaccine certificates are not used, distance learning only. 


Open at both red and orange. At red only, the official advice is “working from home may be appropriate for some staff”. (There’s been a change in wording here – originally it said working at home was “encouraged”.)


Open at both red and orange. If vaccine passes are used, at red there are limits of 100 people based on 1m distancing. (No limits at orange.) If vaccine certificates are not used, hospitality must operate contactlessly at both red and orange. 


If vaccine passes are used, they can open at both red and orange. At red only, the 100-people-based-on-1m-distancing limit applies. If vaccine passes aren’t used, gyms cannot open at either orange or red. 

Hairdressers and other close-contact businesses

If vaccine passes are used, these can open at both orange and red, but at red there must be public health requirements in place. Without vaccine passes, they must stay closed at both settings. 

Gatherings at home

If vaccine passes are used at red you can have up to 100 people round and at orange as many people as you damn well like. No distancing requirements at either level, but remember what Dr Joel Rindelaub said about dry humping – not advisable outside your bubble. Without vaccine passes, at-home gatherings are limited to 25 people at red (an increase from the initial limit of 10), and 50 at orange. 

Weddings, funerals, tangihanga, places of worship, marae, social sport etc

If vaccine passes are used:

At red, 100 people max, based on 1m distancing (seated and separated for service of food and drink).

At orange, no limits.

If vaccine passes are not used:

At red, limit of 25 people, based on 1m distancing (again, this was increased from an initial limit of 10). At orange, limit of 50 people, based on 1m distancing. 

Cinemas, concerts, other indoor/outdoor events 

If vaccine passes are used:

At red, 100 people max, based on 1m distancing (seated and separated for service of food and drink). At orange, no limits.

If vaccine passes are not used:

Not allowed at either red or orange, with the exception of “outdoor community events”, which can go ahead with up to 25 people (red) or 50 people (orange), based on 1m physical distancing. What constitutes an "outdoor community event"? The example offered is "public parade".

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