22 Oct 2021

Traffic light system 'confusing', 'slow', 'rushed', 'risky' - politicians

4:49 pm on 22 October 2021

National and ACT say the government's planned move from alert levels to a traffic light system is confusing and slow, as the Māori Party and Greens urge more protection for the vulnerable.

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Photo: 123rf

The government this morning revealed its "traffic light" system, which would rely on vaccination certificates to offer more freedom even under the highest levels of restriction.

Auckland would move from alert levels to the most restrictive "red" level under new system when each DHB in the region reached 90 percent full vaccination rates.

The rest of New Zealand would move to "orange" when all the remaining DHBs in the country had reached the same 90 percent level, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested the South Island may move to the new system when its five DHBs did the same.

Cabinet would assess on 29 November whether the settings needed to change in the meantime.

'Dismaying, confusing, complicated' - Collins

National leader Judith Collins said Aucklanders were in tears after the announcement and saw no way out of the "prison" their city had become.

She said the system was too confusing and would pit New Zealanders against each other to get vaccinated.

"What we saw today from the prime minister was dismaying, confusing, complicated, and I think a lot of people in New Zealand were feeling exactly the same way as these people I've been talking to this morning," she said.

Judith Collins at the Bring Back Business Presser

Judith Collins at the Bring Back Business Presser Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"You don't have a system and import another one that replaces it, but there's no date on when this is going to come into effect because it's all dependent on every District Health Board in the country having a 90 percent double vaccination rate. So that's really confusing.

"Today is just absolute confusion. I'm so shocked that the prime minister could have put this out and I'm absolutely heartbroken for those people who are watching their businesses go."

National's proposals - moving to a traffic light system either at 85 percent vaccination across each DHB or by 1 December - were, by contrast, very clear, she said.

"We said very clearly 85 percent is when we would open up. We would give people hope that they'd be able to get there, but they should have a vaccine certificate as well - it doesn't matter what these guys say they're going to do if they can't even put in a vaccine certificate."

She said it meant no certainty for Aucklanders or for those in the South Island who may have to wait for DHBs in the North Island.

"They're being held to ransom by some people who don't want to get vaccinated. And in the meantime, the government is simply now pitting New Zealander against New Zealander."

She said the government should instead be accepting that some people were not going to get vaccinated, and the rest of the population should be able to get on with their lives.

Freedom depends on 'laziest' getting vaccinated - ACT

ACT leader David Seymour similarly argued for a specific date that the system could kick in, rather than a vaccination target, and had little sympathy for those who had not yet got their shot.

"I think New Zealanders had great expectations this morning, and were delivered a Freedom Day far more complicated than what ACT and later National have proposed ... exactly when will depend on the laziest person in your community choosing to get vaccinated.

ACT Leader David Seymour

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"Look, there's not many excuses not to be vaccinated, you got a legitimate medical reason or you've been far too lazy to go to one of the many centres that have now been open for months and months."

He said the traffic light system as it stood made a lot of sense but the process for getting there was a real problem.

"We're not going to get to that for a very long time you wait for the slowest DHB to get there," he said.

"The roadmap was a bit of a road to nowhere, now we've got the traffic lights on the road - it's a little bit like one of those toy car games we used to play as kids."

He did not agree with Collins' suggestion it would pit New Zealanders against one another, however.

"There are a number, at least four DHB regions that are still in the mid 70s ... If they don't get to say 90 percent - and they're 15 points off right now and they're the slowest historically ... they're gonna hold the country to ransom forever."

"I see it as pitting an action against an inaction and this action is clearly going to enormously reduce the impacts on ICU, increase our resilience against Covid and allow us to live in a Covid world, which we need to do - so urgently, for so many reasons."

'Squid Game' system will result in Māori deaths - Te Pāti Māori

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer were also critical of the government's plan - not for being to slow, but for putting Māori and other vulnerable people at risk.

They said the government had resisted setting targets specifically for Māori, ignoring the advice of health experts and iwi, and likened the system to the Squid Game television show.

"On every single indicator, Māori are likely to take the biggest hits from a Delta outbreak; vaccinated or not," Ngarewa-Packer said.

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Māori Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"The government even ignored the advice of the Iwi Chairs Forum, who are apparently their most trusted advisory group on behalf of Māori, who have outright rejected the Traffic light system ... the Iwi Chairs believe the strategy is wrong and goes against Te Tiriti principles, and we absolutely agree."

Waititi said the government talked big about money being thrown at Māori but it was not reaching Māori.

"They lie. It's going to DHBs to deliver to Māori, DHBs that have been failing our people," he said.

"The PM says no one will be left behind. What she means is no one will be left behind except for Māori. Let the Squid Games begin."

Traffic lights 'rushed and risky' - Greens

The Green Party similarly warned the government's approach was "rushed and risky", and offered a different approach.

"The proposed vaccination targets are insufficient to protect the most vulnerable, and risk opening up before everyone is safe on an equal basis," Covid-19 Response spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said in a statement.

She said the government needed to do more for those who would struggle with living costs, with rent freezes, easier access to hardship grants and more.

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Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Green Party Health spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere called for more Māori leadership in partnership with GPs, and urged for a continuation of the elimination strategy until 95 percent of eligible Māori and Pacific people were fully vaccinated, plus a total population vaccination rate of at least 70 percent for all ethnic groups and geographical areas.

"Māori and Pasifika are far more likely to have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk from Covid. They are also more likely to be living in communities where Covid spreads more easily, and working in high-risk jobs," she said.

The party also called for additional ICU capacity, ventilation requirements for all workplaces, a new caregivers wage subsidy, and a formal process to involve iwi in Covid-19 strategy decisions.

National 'appalled' by financial supports approach

Collins was "appalled" by the financial support plans offered by the Finance Minister, and questioned how he could threaten businesses that might consider not using the vaccine certification system when that system was not yet available.

"Number one, it's not his money. Number two, on the one hand we're told that businesses won't be able to access the money unless they buy into the whole certification on vaccines. He hasn't even got his certification."

"Threatening is not the way to get people to do these things. look at why people some people are hesitant. They're often hesitant because they'll be influenced by incorrect information that's being propagated out there by people supposed to be scientists and others. It is simply they need to be educated, not threatened."

Her revenue spokesperson Andrew Bayly said the increase to the Resurgence Support Payment was welcome, but would come too late for many businesses that would need to wait another three weeks to access it.

"There has also been no targeted support for sectors struggling most, such as the tourism, accommodation and events sectors. When Auckland struggles, operations in these sectors around the country suffer. The government has forgotten about these businesses once again.

"We do thank the minister for picking up National's idea of a mental health support fund for businesses, something we have been advocating for in the past few months.

"Aucklanders have had it tough in what is the longest lockdown in this pandemic. More than one million Aucklanders have gone to get the vaccine, yet remain barred from accessing bars and restaurants, or visiting friends and family."

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