From Monday, Covid restrictions will significantly reduce and the Cabinet will review the traffic light settings. But not everyone is welcoming the relaxations, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Analysis: It’s goodbye to vaccine passes and most vaccine mandates on April 4 after the Government, with the help of health officials, decided the country would be on the other side of the peak of Omicron and the lifting of restrictions was warranted.
For many months now the vaccinated and unvaccinated have been split in two in public settings, and at home too with family feuds over the merits of vaccines.
But on the same day that the two groups can once again go to the same places and not need to show proof of vaccination – and many can return to jobs without needing to be vaccinated – ministers will also meet to decide whether the country, or at least parts of it, is ready to move down the traffic light system.
The entire country is currently in red, and while the settings were tweaked on March 25, increasing the indoor limits from 100 to 200 and removing outdoor limits, consideration will be given to moving the country down into the orange setting.
At orange there are no gathering limits either indoors or outside, but face mask requirements remain in place.
Auckland is now well out of the peak and much of the rest of the North Island is coming off it, but the South Island is in the middle of rising cases.
The Prime Minister has previously indicated the traffic light system has the capacity for regions to be at different levels and that will be considered on Monday, without any need for hard borders.
Hospitalisations would be a “big factor” in any such decisions, Jacinda Ardern told media.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins says the other factors ministers will weigh up include vaccination and booster rates in different parts of the country, paediatric vaccinations, and the spread of cases.
“Obviously it’s an individual choice, but as people experience Covid and see the peak come off, I’m hopeful people will get more confidence to come out.” – Grant Robertson
The pace of the restrictions loosening in recent weeks is a relief for many, but for others it’s an anxiety-inducing change.
Hipkins told Newsroom, “There’s certainly nervousness in the community about that.”
“It’s finely balanced, I think, in terms of where the overall public sentiment is.
“I think that there are certainly people who are very nervous about where we sit in our Covid-19 response at the moment, but overall, I think New Zealanders have accepted that we’re now in a different phase of our response.”
Those who are anxious about the pace of change are mostly choosing to stay at home, Hipkins said.
Those self-imposed lockdowns have affected local businesses, and Ardern and her deputy, Grant Robertson, have continued to encourage people to head into the city for work and to support small operators.
The Director-General of Health, Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, joined the chorus too, telling Newsroom the traffic light framework was designed to protect people.
He said he was still going out for dinner and visiting hospitality venues during the Wellington peak.
Robertson told Newsroom there had been an increase in foot traffic over the past week with people coming back into the city, “but there’s still a long way to go”.
“Obviously it’s an individual choice, but as people experience Covid and see the peak come off, I’m hopeful people will get more confidence to come out,” he said.
One government minister less convinced the country is ready for any relaxing of the rules is Green Party co-leader James Shaw.
For the immunocompromised and those with underlying health conditions, Shaw says the changes in the settings are making them feel “terrified”.
“Even if they’re vaccinated, they experience a much higher risk than the rest of the population,” he said.
“It’s very easy for the rest of us to forget the concerns of those people.”
The Green Party continues to call for Covid protections to remain in place until more adults, particularly Māori and Pacific peoples, are boosted and there’s been more opportunity for children to get vaccinated.
“If we could finish the rollout and get those numbers up to the same rates as the first and second doses, then I think we’d all be better off,” Shaw said.