PM reveals changes to mandates, vaccines passes and restrictions

The Prime Minister has announced changes to New Zealand's Covid restrictions - lifting all gathering restrictions on outdoor settings, scrapping vaccine passes and removing vaccine mandates for some workforces.

Jacinda Ardern.

Gathering limit changes will come into effect on March 25 at 11.59pm, which also included raising indoor limits from 100 to 200 under Red.

It will also mean all vaccine mandates will be removed for workforces, except for health and disability, aged care, Corrections and border workforces.

Ardern made the announcement from Parliament on Wednesday, to lay out the "next set of changes to our Covid settings in New Zealand".

"While we have been successful, it has also been bloody hard," Ardern said, looking back at the last two years.

"Everyone has been safer, but everyone is also tired."

"Now with more tools and one of the most highly vaccinated nations in the world it means we can keep moving forward."

She said due to the potential of future Covid-19 spikes and a possible daily case average in the thousands, Ardern said the traffic light system would be kept to "help us manage in the future" and to help keep people at risk safe.

The traffic light setting 'Red' will next be reviewed on April 4. Ardern said there was an expectation New Zealand could move to Orange in the near future, but while hospitalisation are at the current rate, New Zealand would be in Red.

Vaccine passes

Ardern announced that from 11.59pm April 4, "vaccine passes will no longer be required as part of the Covid-19 protection framework".

She said this means: "Kiwis will no longer have to be vaccinated in order to enter those venues covered by the pass. Scanning in requirements for the vaccinated will also end."

“We recognise that some businesses, events or venues may still choose to use vaccine passes, so we will maintain the infrastructure for them," Ardern said.

Ardern said people will no longer be required to scan in from this weekend "and businesses are no longer required to provide the mechanisms to do so".

Vaccine mandates

Vaccine mandates will be lifted for education, police and defence workforces and businesses operating vaccine passes, from 11.59pm, Monday April 4.

"Like many other countries we are retaining a small number of mandates targeted at keeping our Covid-19 frontline staff safe and to ensure our most vulnerable, like those in aged care facilities or those with disabilities, are protected from the virus," Ardern said.

Red setting

New Zealand currently sits at traffic light setting Red.

"This is the place where case numbers are high and hospitalisations are high ... so we pop on the brakes," Ardern said.

Indoor gathering limits can be increased from 100 to 200 for hospitality. All outdoor settings gathering limits will be removed.

“From midnight this Friday outdoor gathering limits will be lifted. We know being outdoors for gatherings is safe," she said.

“Orange settings remain broadly the same with no gathering limits but extra guidance on holding safe events, and a new requirement for workers to wear masks at indoor events.

“Red means indoor gathering limits and masks, Orange means masks, and Green means guidance.

“At all levels, the testing and isolation requirements remain as they are now."

Political reaction

National welcomed the changes, saying the "Government has finally caught up with reality, which is that Omicron has changed the game and the tools that worked against Delta are now putting unjustified limits on people’s lives and sowing division and discrimination".

"There is very little point in vaccine passes anymore and it’s good they’re finally being abolished," Chris Bishop said.

"The end of the vaccine pass system does call into question the relevancy of the Government’s Traffic Light Framework, which has vaccine passes at its heart. The Government would be better to ditch the whole thing and create some simple rules around masks and perhaps venue limits, rather than persist with a complicated colour-code system that has never been used properly and that barely anyone understands."

The Green Party came out against the changes, calling them "far too premature".

"This pandemic is not over," Teanau Tuiono said. "We have seen overseas what happens if protections are removed too soon. It is also far too premature to drop vaccine mandates for education, especially in early childhood education where under-5s cannot be vaccinated."

“The Government should be trying to stay ahead of the virus and doing everything we can to avoid a second peak. If we don’t, it will be Māori and Pasifika whānau, immunocompromised people, disabled people, our under-5s, and whānau on the lowest incomes who will be most affected."

The party called for a school-based vaccination programme to be rolled out, high equity in vaccine coverage by working alongside Māori and Pasifika leadership and free N95 masks or equivalents.

The Government will be looking further into "tidying up" the mask exemption scheme, Ardern said.