By RNZ.co.nz. Republished with permission.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that all of Northland would join the Auckland region in red, along with Taupō, Rotorua Lakes, Kawerau, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitīkei, Whanganui and Ruapehu districts.
All other regions would be in orange.
Watch the briefing again here:
Ardern was joined at the briefing by the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
She said New Zealand was now in the “strongest position to move forward” to the new system, which would replace the “sudden lockdowns and restrictions of alert levels”.
“Other than the existing Auckland boundary, which lifts on January 17, there will be no new restrictions on travel between regions.”
She said the vaccine passes would allow vaccinated New Zealanders to do many of the things previously treated as high risk, regardless of which colour setting each area was in.
“Like safely going to bars and restaurants, getting a haircut, and going to a concert or the gym. In Auckland, it means seeing friends and family indoors again,” she said.
For Auckland, she said: “You can now see family and friends again in their homes, and use the bathroom inside. Luxury. If you are unvaccinated you can gather with others but the gathering limits are lower across each of the levels.”
She said life for the unvaccinated would be more restricted. “That is the best way that we can ensure that the unvaccinated are protected too.”
Factors considered in determining the regions’ settings include vaccination rates, the state of the health system, testing, contact tracing and case management capacity, as well as the rate and effect of Covid-19 transmission, she said.
She said at every colour setting, there were three key things to remember – having your vaccine pass with you, wearing a mask, and scanning in wherever you go.
“At orange, the big change here for parts of the country which will enter into this setting is that for the vaccinated and where vaccine passes are used, there are no gathering limits.
“People can gather again safely. At red, it will feel a lot like level 2. Your vaccine pass lets you go everywhere but number limits of 100 will apply to most activities.”
She said the policing of the vaccine passes would be about “supporting compliance at venues, ensure that they’re able to operate the vaccine pass safely. It won’t be operating at borders.”
Ardern said as we enter the next phase, be kind to each other.
“Everyone, and I mean everyone is doing their best. There will be challenges ahead, we’ll continue to see cases in places we haven’t so far, but we will get through just like we did last time and just like we will this time, together.”
Cabinet will review these settings and provide an update on 13 December.
The next update by ministers will be on 17 January, and will continue on a fortnightly basis.
No region expected to be in green over summer
On moving into the green setting, Ardern said that was not anticipated to happen “during this transition phase”.
Ardern said the way the criteria have been applied at this point are different from where it will be in future.
She confirmed there will be no one in green before the New Year.
“Keep in mind the Auckland boundary only lifts in the middle of December so we do expect that the country will be in either orange or red settings through that period.”
She said it was unlikely that any region would go from orange to red in the next two weeks because vaccination rates would not go down.
The ability to check that everyone entering the South Island is either double vaccinated or tested also factored into the decision to move the island as a whole to orange, she says.
It was revealed today that Tairāwhiti iwi have urged Rhythm and Vines owners and management to cancel this year’s festival over concerns it could cause a Covid-19 outbreak in the region.
Meanwhile, Stuff is reporting that more than 3000 people have signed an online petition urging the organisers of the Gisborne festival to cancel the event because of the same concern.
It comes as the Tairāwhiti DHB, which includes Gisborne, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Ardern said it was up to those festivals to decide how to go ahead, which is part of why the government set up an insurance scheme for large events like that.
“There are festivals in the south that will for instance be able to go ahead, but in some regions we are in a transition where there is uncertainty and that is what that support mechanism is all about.”
Ardern said she did not think the regions would be very surprised about the levels they would go into. “These are preventative measures.”
One of the advantages for New Zealand was there had been a good spread of vaccination across the country, she said.
The new system would also help lift vaccine rates as well as help protect, she said.
Ardern said for the most part people found to have Covid-19 away from their usual place of residence, they will have a place they can isolate.
“If they need extra supports to isolate somewhere else, the public health unit can work that through with them.”
Transition support for businesses
A new transition payment, of up to $24,000, will soon be available for businesses, particularly those in Auckland, Waikato and Northland.
The one-off payment will be activated through the Resurgence Support Payment (RSP) system criteria and be available on 10 December.
This payment will be $4000 per business plus $400 per FTE up to a cap of 50 FTEs – a maximum payment of $24,000.
Treasury has estimated the likely total cost of the payment to be between $350 million and $490m.
The affected revenue period for the Transition Payment will be set between 3 October and 9 November, and must be compared to a typical week in the six weeks prior to 17 August.
Robertson said they were moving away from the broad based economic supports provided under the alert level system because most businesses would be able to operate at almost full capacity under the new framework.
“On Friday the final Wage Subsidy and RSP opened for applications. These will still open, and pay out even though we are moving to the new framework, in addition to the transition payment.
“Support to be off work while isolating or to take leave while waiting for test results, currently provided by the Leave Support Scheme (LSS) and the Short Term Absence Payment, will remain available under all levels of the traffic light system.
“However, the LSS will move to a weekly payment rather than fortnightly under the new system, reflecting the changed isolation period.”
If it is deemed necessary, targeted support would only be available under the red setting of the new system because businesses that operate vaccine passes have no significant restrictions at orange and green, he said.
Cabinet has also agreed to change the rules so recently acquired businesses can access the RSP.
The rules required the applicant to have been operating as a business for at least one month before 17 August so businesses acquired after July 17 have not been eligible for any payment.
“The test will now be that the business itself must have been in operation for at least one month prior to August 17 and the business must be carrying on the same or similar activity as before the change in ownership,” Robertson said.
“The revenue decline test also needs to be amended to allow the applicant to use the revenue received by the previous owner over the comparator period in order to demonstrate the necessary revenue decline during the affected period.”
The change will come into effect on 10 December and recently acquired businesses would then be eligible for RSPs made on and after 29 October.
The advance of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, was also on the agenda with cases spreading to several countries over the weekend, including Australia, Belgium and the UK.
“At this stage we have no cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand but the developing global situation shows us why our approach of ongoing caution at the border is needed,” Ardern said.
On Saturday night, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that New Zealand will ban travel from nine southern African countries from the following day in an effort to curb the potential spread of Omicron.
Only New Zealand citizens are allowed to travel here from those countries and they will also be required to stay in managed isolation for a 14-day period and undergo testing.
“Omicron is a reminder of why we need a response that lasts and carries us through the pandemic,” Ardern said.
“We already had a strong system in place and the ability to move swiftly to make it stronger still. This is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our border.”
She said it was unclear at this stage exactly what risk Omicron posed.
Bloomfield said what was being looked at was whether any additional protections werre needed at the border to reduce the likelihood of getting the new variant in New Zealand.
“It’s really just looking to keep it out while we learn more about it.”
Ardern said the borders have always been used as a means of protection, and that will continue as we see the new variant emerge.
“We will continue to review whether or not any other countries need to be added to our very high risk country list as well.”
The variant has also not changed the advice on boosters, she said.
From today, booster shots for those who had their second vaccination at least six months ago became available around the country.