PM: New Covid-19 framework delivers greater freedoms

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning explained the new Covid-19 Protection Framework.

·         New Covid-19 Protection Framework provides pathway out of lockdown and ability for businesses and events to re-open to vaccinated New Zealanders

·         Simpler framework to minimise cases and hospitalisations without use of widespread lockdowns

·         Auckland to move into the new framework when 90 per cent of eligible population in each of the three DHBs are fully vaccinated

·         90 per cent fully vaccinated target set across each DHB region before rest of the country moves into new system

·         Up to $940 million per fortnight in Business Boost package

·         $120 million to accelerate Māori vaccination rates

·         Cabinet to review vaccination progress on November 29

Vaccinated New Zealanders will regain everyday freedoms when the country moves to a new simplified Covid-19 Protection Framework that doesn’t rely on nationwide lockdowns as the main measure to stop the virus spreading.

In a suite of announcements that establish a pathway out of restrictions, the Government is also providing up to $940 million per fortnight to support businesses through the challenging period, particularly those in Auckland. A total of $120 million is also being provided to accelerate Māori vaccination rates in the coming weeks.

“Our current alert level framework and elimination strategy kept us safe and the economy functioning while we vaccinated but now as more Kiwis are protected by the vaccine we need a new plan to that moves away from lockdowns as our primary defence against the virus,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this morning.

“The new Covid-19 Protection Framework sets a pathway forward that rewards the rapidly growing number of vaccinated New Zealanders with more freedoms to go about their lives safely.

“The simplified framework has three levels: green, orange and red. Vaccine certificates will provide greater freedoms at each level, and there will be extra public health precautions built in at higher levels to minimise the impact of Covid-19 and suppress the spread of the virus,” Jacinda Ardern said.

The new traffic light framework will allow businesses previously considered high-risk to fully open to vaccinated customers at green and orange and continue to operate with some restrictions at red. Businesses that choose to open to the unvaccinated will face restrictions in order to suppress the virus amongst those most likely to have it.

“Fully vaccinated people will be able to reconnect with family and friends, go to bars and restaurants and do the things they love with greater certainty and confidence. The framework also provides businesses greater certainty to plan and grow,” Ardern said.

“If you are still unvaccinated, not only will you be more at risk of catching Covid-19, but many of the freedoms others enjoy will be out of reach. No-one wants that to happen but we need to minimise the threat of the virus, which is now mainly spreading amongst unvaccinated people.

“These new requirements are a strong incentive for those who still haven’t had their first dose to do so quickly. The choice is clear for anyone who wants to go to a bar, restaurant, gym or to attend gatherings.

“The framework maintains the ability to move up levels when needed to control an outbreak, but is more flexible than the current alert level system.

“That is because there is clear evidence the virus finds it harder to spread in vaccinated environments which is why businesses that provide services only to vaccinated people can operate at every level of the new framework and without any restrictions at green and orange.

“Testing, contact tracing and isolation will continue as key tools to minimise any spread of the virus. And localised lockdowns will still be an option if we see a rapid growth in cases in areas with high levels of unvaccinated people.

“A target of 90 per cent fully vaccinated across each DHB region has been set as the milestone to trigger moving the country into the new system. This target ensures good regional spread across the country and will also help address equity issues within each region.

“Modelling shows having 90 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated provides a high level of coverage, keeping most New Zealanders safe and helping slow and control outbreaks, assisting public health authorities to do their job.

“Auckland will be able to move sooner. This plan provides a clear path for Auckland to move out of lockdown as soon as 90 per cent fully vaccinated is reached in each of the city’s three DHBs.

“Ultimately we have balanced the desire to re-open quickly while continuing to keep people safe. This plan is unique to New Zealand and rewards New Zealanders who have chosen to be vaccinated, while also giving us the flexibility to step up our response if needed.

“High vaccination rates is also an important step to allow us to reconnect New Zealanders to the world.

“As we move through the most challenging part of the vaccination campaign this is the clearest incentive we can offer to people to get vaccinated. If you want to do the things you love then you need to get vaccinated.

“If you haven’t booked a first dose – do it today. It’s how we win our freedoms and do the things we love doing. It’s our ticket to summer,” Ardern said.

THE PRIME MINISTER’S SPEECH:

Today I’m speaking directly to all New Zealanders to share a plan that will help us stay safe from COVID-19 into the future.

A future where we want to continue to protect people’s lives, but also to live our lives – as safely as possible.

Our announcements today are in three parts.

I will start by setting out the new framework we will use to help us minimise the impact of COVID, and protect ourselves.

The second part is the economic support package we will use to especially support Auckland businesses as we transition. Minister Robertson will speak to that. Minister Sepuloni has also today set out an extension to our hardship assistance package for families on low incomes.

And finally, given the importance of high vaccine rates across all communities, Minister Henare will set out a plan to accelerate Maōri vaccination rates.

In March last year, when I announced our alert level system, I said that the world had changed, and quickly. But we carved our own path then, and now, we can do that again.

Our focus on elimination kept us free from COVID for much of the past 18 months at a time when our population was vulnerable to this virus.

It kept our case numbers low, and our hospitals from being swamped. Our economy held up well and unemployment stayed low. We can be rightfully proud of what our world-leading response has achieved.

But two things have changed since then.

The first, is that Delta has made it very hard to maintain our elimination strategy. Its tentacles have reached into our communities and made it hard to shake, even using the best public health measures and the toughest restrictions we had available to us.

But right as our longstanding strategy was challenged, we also had a new tool. One that means as COVID has changed, we could change too. And rather than being locked down, we can move forward safely and with confidence.

That tool is the vaccine.

The vaccine we are using in New Zealand is safe and effective. If you are vaccinated it means that you are less likely to catch the virus, and much less likely to end up in hospital if you do.

It also helps protect everyone. The more people who are vaccinated, the harder it is for COVID to spread through communities quickly, and find our most vulnerable.

That means while we used to say that we needed to stay home to save lives, we now need to be vaccinated to save lives.

And this is where New Zealand has the chance to continue to carve our own path.

Very few countries have had the opportunity to vaccinate people BEFORE Covid was in every corner of their communities. We can. Once we have done that, we then need to make sure we keep using that tool to protect ourselves as we gradually and carefully open up.

Not all countries have had that chance. And some, have opened up with vaccines very quickly, or without any other public health measures in place.

Our plan will do things differently.

That’s because our goal, based on the advice of Professor David Skegg and the Public Health Advisory group, is to minimise and protect.

Minimisation means that we are aiming to keep the spread of COVID-19 as low as possible. That while there will be some level of cases in the community on an ongoing basis, we will work to contain and control any outbreaks, and if practical to do so, stamp them out.

Protection means that we won’t just treat COVID like a seasonal illness. We will protect people from it with vaccination, management, and a response that focusses on minimising the significant health impacts we know it can have.

But, how will we make our strategy to minimise COVID and protect people work, while also making sure that we keep moving forward?

The first step is with high vaccination rates.

You’ll know that we have been resistant to setting a target. We didn’t want to leave anyone behind. And we still don’t.

But we need to give everyone, and especially Aucklanders, certainty over when it will be safe enough to transition to a new system. One where we give more freedoms to those who are vaccinated.

We have looked at all of the evidence, talked to experts, looked at modelling for our situation, and set a target of 90 percent fully vaccinated for each DHB in New Zealand.

The reason we have focused on each DHB, is because we need every region to be highly vaccinated. And by focusing on DHBs, we also make sure we get more equitable outcomes.

And when every DHB reaches this target that is when we will move into a new framework called the COVID-19 Protection Framework.

Let me tell you how this new system will work.

Similar to our current alert level system, there will be three settings Green, orange and red.

They’re designed to help us manage outbreaks and cases. While you could have cases in the community at any of the different settings, we can use them to try and get numbers down if they’re affecting people’s safety and our health system.

There are three big differences between this new system, and our current one.

The first, is that it uses vaccine certificates. Basically, if you want to be guaranteed that no matter the setting you can go to bars, restaurants, close proximity businesses like a hairdresser – you’ll need to be vaccinated.

The second difference is that with vaccine certificates, at red, orange and green businesses will be able to continue to open and operate. This I know is the certainty that many have been looking for.

And the third major difference, is that rather than use general nationwide lockdowns, if we have cases that start to climb and are in areas where we have lower vaccination rates for vulnerable communities, we can use more highly targeted and very localised lockdowns if we need to.

Let me give you then a very quick run-through of each of the settings.

The red setting is what we’ll use when the virus is spreading in a way that means we need to take action to protect our most vulnerable and prevent too much pressure on our health system.

So here, while hospitality is open with vaccine certificates, and retail is also open with the usual public health measures, gathering limits and physical distancing will also be required. Education will be open but with public health measures in place. Working from home is encouraged. Masks will also be required in the same way we use them now.

This will still feel like a huge amount of freedom relative to what Auckland has now.  And because they have done so much work to lift their vaccination rates, and because of the border around the city – rather than wait for the rest of New Zealand, Auckland will move into Red as soon as all three of the Auckland DHBs hit the 90 per cent double vaccination target.

To everyone in Auckland, our businesses, people on their own, families with young kids – everyone, I know this period has been so hard. But you are so close. Right now you are just 16,000 vaccines away from every DHB hitting the 90 per cent target for first doses. When that turns into double doses, that’s when this new framework kicks in. And I know that vaccination certificates will help us get those numbers up.

For the rest of the country, once every DHB hits 90 per cent double vaccinated we anticipate we will move collectively, together, to orange.

At orange – everything remains open, but because of vaccine certificates, all of the gathering limits currently in place for events, gatherings or hospitality can lift.

Places that choose not to use vaccine certificates will either be closed or will have public health measures in place.

Green is when there is some COVID in the community but at low levels. Fully vaccinated people can enjoy all events and hospitality and gatherings by showing a vaccine certificate. Where premises choose not to use vaccine certificates they will face restrictions on numbers and spacing similar to the current alert level framework. Face masks will only be mandatory on flights but will be encouraged in indoor settings.

There is quite a bit more detail for each of these settings, but they will feel familiar. We have based them on what we have learned from using our old alert levels. But the reason we have changed from this system, is because we needed one that could make use of the new tool of vaccines, and vaccine certificates. A way that we could keep vaccinated people safe from those who have not been.

In thinking about these settings, and when the country moves into them, we did think specifically about the South Island. We also thought about scenarios where we are close to the targets for each DHB, but possibly stuck a small way shy of where we want to be to transition.

That’s why on the 29th of November, Cabinet will review the progress that Auckland has made, and the rest of the country, to see if anything needs to change.

We are open to moving the South Island before the rest of the country, if all the DHBs in the south hit their targets before others.

And for Auckland, who have done all of the heavy lifting in this outbreak.  We have a collective goal now – but in the meantime, we will keep assessing the settings we have, and if it’s safe to do so, use the step downs we have already talked about.  But rather than having to wait week to week, I hope the announcements today give you a better sense of the destination.

So you can see here that our plan gets us moving forward, but in a safe way.

And we are better placed than so many others have been, to do that.

But, we will have COVID cases in the community. And more than we have experienced before.

But because we won’t take this step until we are at 90 per cent vaccination we will also have high levels of protection that limit COVID’s impact. In fact, we will be one of the few countries that will have such high levels of vaccination while still using public health measures to keep everyone as safe as we can, while still enjoying the things we miss and love.

And it’s all because of vaccines.

Vaccinations are our armour. They help keep us safe.

So my message to the New Zealanders who have not yet had their first dose – if you want summer, if you want to go to bars and restaurants. Get vaccinated. If you want to get a haircut. Get vaccinated. If you want to go to a concert, or a festival – get vaccinated. If you want to go to a gym, or a sports events, get vaccinated.

If you are not vaccinated, there will be everyday things you will miss out on.

And if you are vaccinated you can be assured that in the new framework, you will get to enjoy the things you love, secure in the knowledge that the people around you, and the environment you are in, is as safe as possible in a COVID world.

If you have done the right thing to keep yourself and others safe, to look after one another, you should feel safe. You should be protected from those who haven’t made that choice.

That’s what the protection framework seeks to offer vaccinated New Zealanders.

To sum up, our strategy, moving forward, is to minimise and protect.

Our alert level system has chartered us through a global pandemic in a way that kept us relatively free from the virus, and we now have our playbook written if we ever needed it again.

But now we have vaccines. And we cannot ask vaccinated people to stay home forever. So now we need a new playbook to reflect a population protected from COVID.

That’s what this is.

I know you will want as much information as possible at a time like this. And so as always more detailed guidance on this announcement can be found at www.COVID19.govt.nz

Just as we did for the alert level framework, we will continue to work through detailed plans for each sector. This detail will be progressively added.

Till then, to the team of 5 million.

Thank you for doing your bit in our distinctive and world leading fight against COVID-19. I have no doubt that we’ll do what it takes, once again. And move forward, safely, together.