21 Mar 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on reviewing mandates, vaccine passes and traffic light system

9:56 am on 21 March 2022

The traffic light system must be "no more restrictive" than needed and mandates won't be as necessary after the first Omicron wave, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, but mask use will remain important.

Cabinet is meeting today to review vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and the traffic light system, though any decisions will be announced on Wednesday.

Watch the PM talking to Morning Report:

The changes will mark the biggest domestic shake up to Covid-19 restrictions since Omicron arrived on Aotearoa's shores.

"We know that in the future we're likely to have have additional waves of Omicron... We're already seeing that in other countries," Ardern said.

"So let's make sure we get the Covid protection framework, that traffic light system, right for the future.

"We want it to be no more restrictive than it needs to be, so if there are areas we can pare it back, we will."

The government had already indicated mandates and vaccine passes would no longer be as necessary when the current wave of infections had peaked, she said.

"We're highly vaccinated and a number of unvaccinated people will have had Covid during this first wave."

Masks made a "really big difference" when there were a large number of cases.

"It is something that keeps you and others safe."

Government embarrassed about border change - Bishop

A rule change allowing unvaccinated New Zealanders to enter New Zealand without going into MIQ or isolation has the National Party questioning the government's other health orders.

The government quietly changed the rules on Friday. It was published on the MIQ website but not separately announced by the government.

Ardern said the rule change was about whether quarantine was "proportionate" any longer, and was not prompted by any legal requirements.

She said it related to a very small number of citizens, given so many people travelling had already been vaccinated and many airlines had vaccine requirements.

"The decision was made that on balance ... given that we're in an Omicron wave as well and given we're managing Covid cases here, we would no longer require that small group to be in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

"We do have to give consideration as to whether any measures we have are proportionate but we do that for every single decision that we make, be it use of mandates, be it use of passes or be it a requirement to be in quarantine."

The requirement remained in place for other travellers such as tourists, she said.

National Party Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said he was in favour of the new rule.

He understood that public health officials advised that it was "legally questionable" whether the government could maintain a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated New Zealanders at the border.

However, he questioned why the government then waited five days between Cabinet agreeing to the move and revealing the change on Friday night on the Ministry of Health's website.

He told Morning Report it should have been announced in Parliament, but the government was embarrassed.

New Zealand still has sharp differences between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, who cannot get a haircut or go to a restaurant or cafe, he said.

People had to ask themselves why there was a distinction between those people being penalised while others were coming into the country unvaccinated.

Omicron had changed the game and the guidance issued by the government was influencing the decisions being made by the likes of sports clubs, who were barring teens from taking part in some sports.

"Vaccine passes don't make any sense anymore."

The transmission effect of vaccine passes was far less significant than with the Delta variant, Bishop said.

"All of this is a question of rights [of the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated] and whether or not the impingement and intrusion of rights is a justified limit and my view and I think an increasing number of people is that it isn't."


The prime minister said small number of New Zealanders had been in place in Poland to help evacuate citizens from Ukraine.

She said assistance from New Zealand representatives was given from early in the conflict.

"Many other countries in the same situation as us had a small number of their citizens in country as those commercial flight opportunities closed that became the natural point of departure.

"So we have had people in place in those areas.

"This was to support people who had a connection to New Zealand who may have been coming across land borders in the surrounding areas."

Parliament occupation

On whether there will be a government inquiry into the occupation of Parliament, Ardern said the government was waiting for final decisions by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) and the scope of its inquiry.

"The government indicated an interest in looking into what happened - we've never given an indication of how that would be done.

"But it does seem they would be a body that we should give consideration as to whether or not they are covering the full ambit because there would be no point whatsoever in replicating what would I imagine be probably quite an intensive investigation."

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