A new set of COVID-19 regulations will be under way in New Zealand once 90% of eligible recipients across all health districts are immunised with a two-dose vaccine, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday.
The new system, which has been compared to traffic lights – with the colours red, orange and green indicating the level of restrictions imposed on a community – will take over the current alert system that has guided residents throughout the pandemic.
The framework, however, won't just rely on colour coding. Apart from the traffic light system, the policy will also allow most businesses to present "vaccination certificates" as proof that they can operate safely and thus open to the public.
Businesses that opt to show vaccination certificates will be accorded greater freedoms, enabling them to expand their services amid the community health crisis. The certificates will remain optional, except for high-risk establishments where employees are forced to work in close proximity to each other.
Red, orange and green: What do the colours mean under the new system?
RED: Restrictions under "red" appear to be similar to those of the current Alert Level 3, where there is a risk of overrunning New Zealand's healthcare system. In this scenario, working from home is encouraged.
Meanwhile, businesses which operate under this classification – but which won't make use of vaccination certificates – can stay open albeit at a reduced capacity.
The hospitality sector can offer contactless delivery and pick-up options. However, gyms and personal care services will remain closed. Families and friends are allowed to gather, but the number of attendees at events, like church services and weddings, will be limited to 10.
It's a different case for establishments that opt for vaccination certificates. Events and hospitality businesses can serve up to 100 guests but with physical distancing. Meanwhile, retailers, gyms and hair salons can stay open but with capacity limits.
ORANGE: With "orange" restrictions, events and hospitality businesses that provide vaccination certificates can welcome any number of guests. Masks, however, will be required when using public transport or visiting a retail establishment.
GREEN: Retailers, schools and offices can operate without restrictions but will be required to scan visitors upon entry. Establishments that present vaccination certificates will no longer impose stringent rules, but those that opt out of the certificate system will have to follow measures similar to Alert Level 2, with a cap of 100 guests. Masks will still be required for air travel.
'Greater certainty to plan and grow'
"We cannot ask vaccinated people to stay home forever, so now we need a new playbook to reflect a population protected from COVID," Ardern said, suggesting "a future where we want to continue to protect people's lives, but also to live our lives".
"Fully vaccinated people," she said, "will be able to reconnect with family and friends, go to bars and restaurants, and do the things they love with greater certainty and confidence".
The framework will also give businesses "greater certainty to plan and grow" despite the ongoing struggle to rein in new community cases. The traffic light system thus complements New Zealand's greater vaccination campaign.
"If you are still unvaccinated, not only will you be more at risk of catching COVID-19, but many of the freedoms others enjoy will be out of reach. No one wants that to happen but we need to minimise the threat of the virus, which is now mainly spreading amongst unvaccinated people," Ardern said.