The South Island will head into the orange level as the country adopts the traffic light system on Friday, things are a bit more complicated for the North Island, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.
New Zealand’s plan for summer. The country will wake up on Friday morning to a new traffic light system designed to manage Covid-19 for the foreseeable future. Most Aucklanders will emerge to a new measure of personal freedom under a red level and the end of a lockdown that has lasted 15 weeks. However for hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated New Zealanders, both in Auckland and across the motu, Friday will mark the start of significant restrictions going forward. Alice Neville has written for The Spinoff about yesterday’s announcement by the prime minister of which regions will be headed into the orange and red levels. In short, the South Island and lower North Island will be orange, while the upper half of the North Island is largely red. Jacinda Ardern confirmed that no part of the country will go to the green level this summer.
Cabinet will review the settings in two weeks, on December 13, and then they are likely to remain frozen until January 17.
This summer you need to “mask, scan and pass”. As a quick reminder, red is similar to level two when vaccine passes are used, which means capacity limits and social distancing. At orange, there are no limits when vaccine passes are used. Once the Auckland border opens on December 15 for those who are fully vaccinated or recently tested, most New Zealanders will be free to travel around the country regardless of what level a region is in. According to Newshub, some rules of the system were modified in recent days for unvaccinated people, but the overall traffic lights haven’t changed much.
A one-off payment will be made to help businesses in Auckland, Waikato and Northland. The NZ Herald reports that some businesses will receive up to $24,000 to help them get running again after months of lockdown restrictions. The entire programme could cost up to $490 million, according to the Treasury. Wage subsidies and most business support programmes are expected to end under the traffic light system, after billions spent over the past two years. The finance minister said he’ll report back to cabinet next year if some subsidies are still needed under red, or for any regional lockdowns that could take place. Auckland businesses told Stuff that while they are happy with the cash, they only really have three weeks to open before Christmas hits and shoppers disappear on their summer holidays.
Reopening is taking place against a spreading omicron variant. Despite repeated assurances from the prime minister that the traffic light system offers more protection than the alert levels due to the introduction of vaccine passes, experts say that isn’t so. In a comment to the Science Media Centre, epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig said that an upgraded alert level system would be a better move for the country right now:
“The key issue with the traffic light system is that it’s designed around incentivising New Zealanders to get vaccinated. It’s significantly underpowered for meaningful prevention of Covid-19 outbreaks. That’s a major and concerning gap in our pandemic response just now as we await further information on the omicron variant.”
Michael Plank, with Te Pūnaha Matatini, shared many of the same concerns and added that because the government moved to the new system before 90% full vaccination was achieved, some areas will have large gaps in coverage: “The virus will find and exploit these gaps so we must redouble our efforts to fill them.”
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