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New system lights up


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With the new traffic light system going live on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that Wairarapa will have an orange setting.

In a conservative approach, Ardern said on Monday that no region would start the new system at green, the least restrictive of the three levels; red, orange and green. Auckland, managing an active covid outbreak, would start at red, the level with most restrictions.

Ardern said vaccination rates were a key consideration in setting the new levels, together with the capacity of the health and disability system, covid transmission, case numbers, and the impact of the virus on vulnerable populations.

Initial traffic light settings across North Island.

The new system throws the spotlight on vaccination status, with many businesses and others restricted under the new rules unless they require patrons to show vaccine passports. People not fully vaccinated and those without a vaccination certificate will be limited in where they can go.

Reaction to the impending move has been mixed.

Some businesses have been unsure about operating a system mandating a vaccine passport.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the announcement would give certainty.

“On the whole, businesses that adopt the vaccine passport will be able to operate under any colour of the traffic light system,” he said.

“Businesses that don’t adopt the vaccine passport will know the conditions they can operate under at each colour. Vaccinated people can have confidence they can increase their activity safely, and unvaccinated people will continue to be able to access food, medical care and other essential services,” he said.

McAnulty said New Zealand was in an enviable position, with one of the lowest covid death and hospitalisation rates, as well as a high-performing economy with low unemployment.

“This framework is about opening up without putting the achievements we’ve all worked hard for at risk.”

Many businesses were feeling their way through the new rules.

Business Wairarapa general manager Nicola Belsham said some businesses had not known about the NZ Pass Verifier until she shared it with them at the weekend.

The NZ Pass Verifier was an app that businesses and organisations could use to check customers’ My Vaccine Pass.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the app was ready last week ahead of the introduction of the traffic light system this week.

Businesses could use the app to scan the QR code on customers’ My Vaccine Passes.

“The verifier will show a green tick recognising the official QR code that is embedded into the customer’s pass,” Hipkins said.

“It will show quickly that the person is fully vaccinated or has the appropriate exemption and can enter their premises.”

The verifier app would not store any customers’ data or see any information other than a person’s name and date of birth.

“It’s going to take some teething time for people to get up to play,” Belsham said.

“The businesses I’ve spoken to feel a bit rushed into it.”

Earlier this month, Business Wairarapa hosted a workshop with Business NZ employment relations policy manager Paul Mackay, who explained employers’ obligations under the new covid-19 response legislation to the best of his knowledge.

Belsham said she wanted to get Business NZ back for a follow-up conversation now that the legislation had been introduced.

“The big thing is the cost implication if a busy business has to employ a full-time person to verify people’s vaccines – particularly in hospitality businesses.”

Belsham said business owners needed to invest time to research what was expected of them under the new system – but this was easier said than done for people who were already “flat-out” working towards the Christmas season.

She said Wairarapa could still expect a “bumper tourism season”, no matter what colour the region was in.

Mayors from all three districts acknowledged the changes would be challenging for some.

South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen also encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“We understand that life is complicated, and covid and the associated pressures are causing many of our friends, whanau, and neighbours concerns.

“Wairarapa is a caring community, and we know people will show that for each other in times of need.

Greg Lang, Mayor of Carterton, encouraged people to be tolerant as the changes bed in.

“The new system will present big changes for us all. Residents and businesses will have added workloads, and there may be additional pressure if people are not permitted in certain places,” he said.

“But it’s really important we respect the choices our businesses have been given, and remember to be kind to each other, no matter what decision different people in our community make.

“At the end of the day, if we all stick to the framework, we can enjoy a summer and Christmas break safely with our local friends and family.”

Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson was looking forward to the holiday season, although it would be slightly changed.

“The traffic light system will take some getting used to, but we will quickly become accustomed to operating this way.

“Things will be a bit different when out shopping or enjoying hospitality,” she said.

“That may require some patience as our retailers and other businesses get used to the new system.

“Wearing masks is still encouraged, and people may need to have vaccination certificates at the ready at some locations.

“Overall, I think we can look forward to the festive season, even if it looks a little different this year.”

The traffic light settings will be reviewed in two weeks.

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