Cabinet will meet today to decide the next phase of our Covid response. Reports suggest it could be the end of the traffic light system and mask mandates, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.
Hard stop on legal instrument which allows government to exercise special powers next Wednesday
Introduced on December 3, 2021, the day billed as “freedom day” by some desperate Aucklanders, the traffic light system may have run its course. Cabinet will meet today to decide on the next phase of our Covid response. As reports over the last few days have suggested, that could well mean throwing the whole tricoloured system out. There were reports at the beginning of the month that the government was consulting on removing mask mandates from all but high-risk health settings. The main legal instrument which allows the government and officials to exercise special powers during our Covid response, the Epidemic Preparedness (Covid-19) Notice 2020, will expire next Wednesday if cabinet decides not to renew it.
Unlike the alert system with its clear instructions, ideal for a population navigating their first pandemic, the traffic light system was conceived in blurrier, less cohesive times when provision was required for vaccine mandates. It was not beloved from the get-go. Law professors Andrew Geddis and Dean Knight referred to the rushing through of the legislation that enabled it as “a constitutional disgrace”. Toby Manhire was righteously and tangentially outraged to discover that the “orange” and “amber” names we, the people, ascribe to the middle light are not in fact not what our transport agency calls the colour. Whatever it’s actually called, it’s been orange to most of us and we’ve spent winter and another wave of omicron in it, since April 13 to be precise.
Could it be green?
We’ve never even been to green. Cabinet may yet decide to retain the system and move the country to the green setting but as with all previous decisions about levels and alerts, the decision is not made until it’s made. Michael Baker has questioned whether the traffic light system was fit for purpose for a while and now says it’s outlived its usefulness. Baker would like the government to put systems in place to make sure we can respond in the event of the next uptick of cases. Case numbers dropped to under 1,000 yesterday for the first time since February but as I’m in a reflective mood, we’re still talking case numbers that would’ve freaked us the hell out not so long ago.
Mask compliance dwindling
Ultimately, things have changed for most people since the days of grinding one’s teeth waiting for vaccination numbers to be updated. Many New Zealanders have had Covid now and as spring approaches, compliance with mask mandates is dwindling, though still recommended by experts. Stuff’s Kelly Dennett speaks to people who are worried about being left behind as others want to move on. BusinessDesk’s Patrick Smellie writes (paywalled) that “while health agencies may determine when pandemics are declared, it is politicians and the people they govern who decide when they end. The end of a pandemic is as much a political decision as a health one.” Smellie of course notes that the pandemic is not over, but we’ll get an indication of what the politicians think about the future course of action today.