NZ to move to traffic light system on December 3; hairdressers allowed to open in Auckland on Thursday

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Nov 2021, 3:51pm

NZ to move to traffic light system on December 3; hairdressers allowed to open in Auckland on Thursday

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Nov 2021, 3:51pm

The whole of NZ will move into the traffic light framework at 11.59pm on Thursday, December 2, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. 

"This date provides the certainty for businesses in particular to plan." 

She urged people to download the vaccination certificate, which will become critical under the framework for people to get out and about. 

Cabinet has also decided to undertake a trial by allowing hairdressers and barbers in Auckland to open from Thursday to vaccinated people, Ardern said at today's post-Cabinet press briefing. 

It would be a trial of the vaccination certificates - hairdressers could only take bookings - no walk-ins. All staff must be vaccinated and only vaccinated customers were allowed. 

Masks and safety precautions had to be taken. 

Ardern said hairdressers were chosen because the seating allowed distancing to be maintained. 

She said some would be anxious about the change to the traffic light system, but the number one precaution was still protecting lives and livelihoods. 

On why there was no move on hospitality this week, Ardern said the announcement did give them certainty that they could open on December 3 - although Auckland would be at the red light stage. 

Other close distance sectors - such as hospitaility and gyms - involved larger numbers. Hairdressing by its nature involved lower numbers of people and would allow an effective test of the vaccination certificate, the PM said. 

"This was the lowest-risk one." 

Ardern said she will set out key information and details on the traffic light system later this week. More details and a law change will be released this week as well as an app to allow businesses to operate under the vaccination certificate framework. 

Ardern said more details on how positive Covid cases would be handled in the community from a health perspective would also come later this week. 

Asked if she had any regrets about the earlier decision to break level 3 into different steps, Ardern said the call had been to ease safely if it could be done. "We signalled to people that if we were able to move that is what it would look like, but also not to set an expectation that if we were to move that it would be to [level 2]." 

Ardern said across the whole traffic light system, if you were vaccinated you could lead an ordinary life. What varied from step to step was the rules for large gatherings. 

Schools would get sector guidance this week, as would those in charge of large events, on how they would be able to operate at different light colours. 

Asked about the death of a Covid-positive man in his 40s, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said it was somebody who had been in hospital for a while and his thoughts were with the family. 

He said throughout last week, hospital admissions and those in ICU had not increased. "This is a good sign." He said it showed the "profound impact" that vaccinations were having. 

It comes after 205 community cases were reported - the fourth-highest daily total - and a person in their 40s had died with Covid-19. 

Cabinet has been today considering whether Auckland could soon move to alert level 3.3, although it is likely to urge Aucklanders to be patient, potentially skipping 3.3 entirely in favour of heading straight to the traffic light system next week. 

Next Monday, November 29, Cabinet will consider moving the whole country away from the alert-level system to the new traffic light system. 

Once in the traffic light system, lockdowns, if they happen at all, are expected to be rare and more localised. 

Ardern indicated earlier today that all businesses, including cafes and restaurants, will open again within days of the big review date - November 29. 

It is expected Auckland and the rest of the country will then move into the traffic light system within a day or two of next Monday, she told Three's AM Show. 

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast, she said vaccination rates reaching 90 per cent coverage in many parts of the city was making a huge difference compared to when the country went into lockdown in mid-August. At that time, the vaccination rate was about 20 per cent. 

For those hospitality businesses hoping for a move into alert level 3.3 this week, it seems unlikely; given the high number of community cases still being identified in the city. 

Her message to hairdressers and cafe and restaurant owners was: "Plan for the 29th, when Cabinet would meet to decide when to move to the traffic light system." 

Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Shaun Hendy said the situation was "looking better in Auckland" but case numbers may soon peak in the city. 

The "R" rate, which measures how much the virus has been spreading, had been "falling over the last few weeks, which suggests the vaccine rollout is starting to get ahead of the outbreak in Auckland at least". 

He said a move to 3.3 was a "big one" because indoor hospitality was a "clear risk, and arguably less safe than opening under the traffic light system". 

"At this stage, it might be prudent to wait a week until we transition to the new system to avoid confusion and taking on extra risk." 

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said he was not in favour of moving Auckland to alert 3.3, saying those settings could "really accelerate transmission", given that it would allow people to congregate in more indoor settings. 

"I would be much more concerned about 3.3 that has people going into a large number of indoor environments." 

Of the 205 new community cases today, 175 are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, 20 are in the Waikato, five are in the Bay of Plenty, one is in Taupō and four are in Northland. 

There are 85 people in hospital today, up two from yesterday, with cases at North Shore (20); Middlemore (22); Auckland (38); Whangārei (1); and Waikato (4). 

Six people are in ICU or a high-dependency unit. The average number of people in hospital is 48. 

Forty-five patients (56 per cent) in hospital have not been vaccinated, the ministry said. 

Fifteen (19 per cent) of those hospitalised had one vaccine dose and 18 (22 per cent) were fully vaccinated). The vaccination status of the remaining two cases was unknown.