Saturday, May 18, 2024

NZ to stay at Red as vaccine passes and most mandates end

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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo Waatea News

New Zealand is seeing a drop in cases, but as Omicron takes hold in the regions, public health advice says now is not the time for the country to move to Orange, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today.

“It’s encouraging to see fewer cases. Yesterday was the lowest number we’ve seen since 25 February,” Chris Hipkins said.

“Four weeks ago we were averaging around 20,000 cases a day, compared to today where that average is just over 13,000. But while the drop in cases is mainly in Auckland and Wellington, other places aren’t yet in the same position.”

Hospitalisations have dropped in Auckland, but continue to plateau or increase in regions like Canterbury, Waikato and Northland. Hospitalisations are not peaking in some DHBs until mid-April.

“As a result, the public health advice is that it is not yet the time to ease the existing restrictions and drop down to Orange,” Hipkins said.

Ministers will review these settings again next week.

“We have put this check in place due to the pace at which we are seeing the Covid-19 situation changing, and acknowledging that Easter and the upcoming school holidays are an important time for businesses – particularly those in our tourist regions,” Hipkins said.

“As we’ve learned over the last two years, keeping ourselves and each other safe from Covid-19 continues to be a team effort.

“Nearly two weeks ago we announced changes to the Covid-19 Protection Framework to make it simpler and allow us to live more normal lives, while keeping the public health measures in place that we know work. We also announced changes to vaccine passes and mandates.

“At 11:59pm tonight, Kiwis will no longer need to use My Vaccine Pass. This was an extremely useful tool while we were getting the country vaccinated and in our fight against Delta, but with around 95 per cent of the eligible adult population at least double-dosed, we no longer need this. Businesses will still be able to use the system if they choose to but from tonight, it’s not required.”

Meanwhile, Government vaccine mandates for all sectors except health and care workers, prison staff, and border workers will be removed from tonight.

“They remain for health and care workers and prison staff because they come into contact with a lot of people who are at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19, and for our border workers because they are the first people who would likely be exposed to any new variant of concern that emerges internationally,” said Hipkins.

“Our Covid-19 response has always prioritised the health of Kiwis by ensuring we’re protecting our immunocompromised and high-risk members in our communities.

“Red means wearing a face mask in most indoor settings, limiting indoor capacity to 200, and if you catch Covid-19 – or someone you live with does – isolating for seven days.

“Next to being vaccinated and having a booster, face masks are our best defence against Covid-19. Wearing them can reduce new cases of the virus by as much as 53 per cent. That means by putting on a face mask you are contributing to lowering our case numbers, lowering the numbers of people in hospital and lowering the number of deaths.”

Hospitality businesses further gutted as Government stays at Red setting indefinitely

Holding the traffic light setting at Red indefinitely is gutting for many businesses teetering on the brink of insolvency, says Hospitality New Zealand.

“With us seemingly past the Omicron peak, businesses were rightly expecting a strong indication on when we could move to Orange, but to get nothing at all today is particularly gutting,” says chief executive Julie White.

“If not actual movement, then maybe a date so they could plan would have been better than nothing.

“Every day we’re in Red is another day of struggle for venues up and down the country that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“The uncertainty is a business-killer. I’m not sure how much more they can take.

“We were grateful for the lift in the number allowed in indoor settings that led to an increase in patronage, but in reality that affected only a small part of the industry, and we were really counting on something that would give much wider relief.

“The Government says we need customers to go out but that’s been our point all along – they just aren’t doing that in this artificial lockdown.

“They claim lifting those restrictions would be beneficial but for most there’s no help at all.

“What’s the difference between sitting in a stadium with thousands of others and going to a café or restaurant later? There’s none, so why do customers have to remain seated and separated.

“The Prime Minister has already acknowledged the virus spread in hospitality is low, so why do we keep being penalised?

“We are pleased the requirement for businesses to ask for a vaccine pass ends tonight.

“The system was useful in its day, but people must remember it doesn’t stop you from catching Covid-19, or make you any less infectious. 

“There has also been a lot of push-back on the use of the passes from customers refusing to show it or causing trouble, so removing the requirement addresses that, along with one of the major impediments to standard hospitality operation.”

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