January’s reopening with Australia is in jeopardy as PM signals caution with international border, despite a continued relaxation of domestic rules Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.
A slow transition will continue to the traffic light system. Despite rising vaccination levels across New Zealand and a growing risk posed by omicron overseas, there won’t be any drastic changes to the country’s pandemic rules this summer. Auckland and all parts of the country currently under red restrictions—excluding Northland—will move to orange on December 30. As Henry Cooke writes for Stuff, orange will “essentially mean unrestricted life for the vaccinated” at venues using vaccine passes. Auckland’s case numbers have been lower than modelling had predicted. The restrictions won’t be reviewed until January 17, at which point some parts of the country could get the thumbs up to go to the green setting. The South Island, with low case numbers and high vaccination rates, is a likely candidate for green.
Hospitality businesses warn the move will be too late. After four months of lockdown, Auckland hospitality businesses say they could use the next two weeks in orange, the NZ Herald reports, adding that some warn it will be a “sad Christmas” because of ongoing restrictions. As the prime minister pointed out yesterday, businesses using vaccine passes are nearly back to normal operations as it is. Amid the complaints, the Auckland Business Chamber said the city should be in orange because it’s the most vaccinated in the world (note: while Auckland’s vaccination level is impressive, it’s not a global leader). Act has called for an immediate move to orange, while National’s new leader has demanded a jump straight to green.
Omicron might bring some changes to the booster shot regime. The initial indications from Pfizer are that while the efficacy of its vaccine is reduced against the new variant, a third booster shot brings it up again. New Zealand already has a universal booster programme in place and the delay between second and third doses could be shortened, according to the director general of health. As RNZ reports, Ashley Bloomfield said “our key objective is to go into winter with our maximum population immunity”. That could mean cutting the delay for a booster from the current six months, to as few as three.
While most of the domestic reopening programme is chugging along, the international border faces more uncertain. Fully vaccinated New Zealanders returning from Australia were supposed to be able to avoid a stay in border facilities from January 17, but that date is now at risk. As Stuff reports, Jacinda Ardern warned yesterday that a small group of ministers will review what’s known about omicron in early January and could delay or cancel the reopening if it presents a significant risk to New Zealand. She was careful to say she didn’t want to “preempt” the decision, but her move to bring up the review unprompted should be a clear red flag to anyone considering travel to Australia. Experts have told RNZ that more will be known in a few weeks, but the country is vulnerable to an omicron outbreak.
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