20 Jan 2022

Northland's traffic light setting future to be revealed after Cabinet makes Covid-19 settings decision

9:35 am on 20 January 2022

The government will announce today whether Northland will remain in red under the Covid-19 traffic light system.

Urupukupuku Island, a pest-free island, seen from the Cape Brett track, near Russell in the Bay of Islands.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith says "to some extent, we have missed our seasonal peak, it's come and gone". File image Photo: Supplied/ Department of Conservation/ Brian Dobbie.

Cabinet ministers met yesterday to decide whether it is tweaking settings that have all regions at orange except Te Tai Tokerau.

Northland is also the only region that does not have at least 90 percent of people over 12 vaccinated.

But as of yesterday it is now at 89 percent for first doses, just 1423 off the target.

At red, gatherings at private properties are limited to 100 people.

People need vaccine passes to enter hospitality venues and gyms.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith told RNZ being stuck in red had disheartened businesses.

"It's very unfortunate that we are so early in the year and we are already seeing that malaise of tiredness and stress coming back to the fore, even though many of us have had a holiday," Smith said.

A move to orange was overdue - and he disagreed with the government's previous decision to keep Te Tai Tokerau in red, he said.

"To some extent, we have missed our seasonal peak, it's come and gone. There's still more of the summer left but of course, people's abilities to travel and have holidays are far more limited."

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai had less confidence in a traffic light change, knowing an Omicron outbreak was possibly imminent.

"This the next big risk and employers - council for example - we're preparing for up to a quarter of our people to be away at any time. And of course, that has an impact on our ability to provide the services to our community," Mai said.

"I am pleased that I'm not one of the decision makers as to whether or not we move."

Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner said there's very low case numbers of Covid-19 in Northland, but as Omicron hits the country it will pose the same threat to all regions, so there's no point treating Northland differently.

He said if you only go by statistics for vaccinations the traffic light settings called for red, but Northland is very close to the target, and has "worked hard" so the government should apply more flexibility.

"There's a strong case for Northland to now move to orange to re-align with the rest of New Zealand, so that as the government makes national decisions [in the future] those decisions are consistent with respect to Northland as well.

"I think if Omicron cannot be contained at our border, and there is widespread community transmission, I don't even think the current traffic light system was set up for Omicron, and things need to change rapidly."

He said Northland was on track to reach the 90 percent fully vaccinated target to enter orange shortly.

"Northland is vaccinating about 2000 people per day, and about 10 percent of those are first and second vaccinations. So I do believe Northland will get to 90 percent second vaccination in a matter of weeks."

He stressed the importance of vaccinations to protect the community from Omicron.

"There's strong demand for boosters... Northland is really responding, but even at that rate, 2000 per day ... you're still probably looking at ... three to four months at that rate to get the booster shots, so things don't move quickly in terms of the large numbers."

"Whilst we're in summer I think we need to do everything we can to get ahead of the potential Omicron outbreak in New Zealand."

The prime minister will make the traffic light announcement this afternoon.

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