Covid-19: Traffic lights will be turned on at the end of the month, and the Auckland border will open in mid-December.

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The traffic light system is planned to be implemented across New Zealand shortly after November 29, with the Auckland boundary opening to vaccinated or tested people on December 15.

The news was made at today’s Covid-19 media briefing, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

 

Watch the briefing live here:

The Prime Minister said Cabinet would confirm the planned switch to the Covid-19 Protection Framework for the entire country, with Auckland in ‘Red’ along with regions that have lower vaccination rates, and the rest in ‘Orange’.

She said changes to Auckland’s boundary would allow people to leave the region for any reason, beginning from 15 December, through until 17 January as long as they had a vaccine pass or a negative test within 72 hours before departure.

Ardern said vaccination or testing requirements do not apply to children under 12.

Those breaking the rules would face a $1000 fine, with police enforcing the rules and managing borders with spot checks, and working together with iwi on the northern border into Northland.

Checks for travellers out of Auckland Airport would be done at check-in, with Air New Zealand’s vaccine certificate or test requirements also kicking in on 15 December.

“We now have the unique advantage though of moving to the next phase of managing Covid-19 with a highly-vaccinated population, and with a plan,” Ardern said.

“Aucklanders have faced restrictions for an extended period of time to keep the rest of New Zealand safe. But the time is coming to change the way it works to allow all New Zealanders to reconnect with one another over summer as safely as possible.”

“This is a significant shift for New Zealanders, but we have a plan and you can build your own one too. Get your Vaccine Pass ready and continue to follow public health guidance.”

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She said the new system recognised disparities in vaccination rates and risk of the virus to vulnerable communities.

Ardern said Cabinet would make more decisions about the shift to the traffic light framework, including on testing, contact tracing, care in the community and social supports for those who contracted Covid-19.

“With fewer people needing hospital treatment because of vaccination it’s important that the model of case identification and community care is robust to ensure everyone is well looked after and we reduce the risk of onward spread,” she said.

Ardern said the elimination strategy was never intended as an elimination strategy and Delta had required a shift to slowing the spread of the virus and increasing vaccination rates as the best form of protection.

Ardern said the traffic light system was safer than alert levels, and recognised the risk to vulnerable communities.

“Our job isn’t done until everyone has had that opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Checks for travellers out of Auckland Airport would be done at check-in, with Air New Zealand’s vaccine certificate or test requirements also kicking in before 15 December. Interislander ferries will also also be able to require proof of vaccination or a pre-departure test, which adds to protections for the South Island.

“Vaccination or testing requirement for Air New Zealand, combined with the ability for the Interislander to operate the same regime, will mean all entry points for the South Island will be well covered, with checks to try and slow any potential spread.

Ardern said Cabinet would make more decisions about the shift to the traffic-light framework, including on testing, contact tracing, care in the community and social supports for those who contracted Covid-19.

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“With fewer people needing hospital treatment because of vaccination it’s important that the model of case identification and community care is robust to ensure everyone is well looked after and we reduce the risk of onward spread.

“We will also release detailed individual sector guidance for the new traffic-light system. This has been worked through in detail over the course of many weeks, in consultation with different sectors.”

She said it had been two years of constant change caused by Covid-19, and while this may be one of the toughest periods to date, “we’ve had a plan and it has carried us through”.

She said the reason for the delay in switching to the traffic-light system was because, although it offered greater protections, it relied on vaccines and the ability to use vaccination passes.

Hipkins said decisions about changes to the international border had not been made at this point, but such changes would mean cumulative risk.

“Changes that we make at the border could significantly increase the number of people travelling across the border and even if the positivity ratio stays about the same – so even if we’re getting even 10 cases per 1000 – if we’re having five or 6000 people per day coming into the country, that’s another 50 or 60 cases potentially coming into the country. So we have to make sure that we’re ready for that.

“We can’t just simply throw the flood gates open.”

Ardern says the next phase in the international border is releasing in the near future the dates when people could safely apply for self-isolation.

Earlier this morning, the system that allows fully-vaccinated people torequest their vaccine pass or certificate went live.

Ardern said ticketed events have thought about how to integrate the process into ticketing, and “we have not applied the requirement for retail, because we’ve taken into account the idea of for instance a sole operator trying to check a vaccine certificate and serve customers being very difficult, and it’s a lower risk environment”.

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And all Auckland students from new entrants to Year 10 – about 200,000 children – were today allowed back into classrooms, but with some rules in place on mingling and masks.

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