PM Jacinda Ardern gives more details on vaccination mandates for workers, 79 new cases

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said if DHBs don't make it to 90 per cent vaccination levels, the government might still use alert level 3 settings to restrict the spread of the virus.

That is if the virus escapes Auckland and reaches other regions.

Ardern and Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood are setting out more details on when vaccine mandates can apply.

Ardern said the government has already mandated for workers in certain sectors, such as healthcare, to be vaccinated.

She said that in other high-risk areas, such as hospitality, should also be vaccinated.

If customers should be vaccinated, so should staff, she said.

Vaccinations will now be mandated for any business that requires the use of vaccination certificates, she said.

That will include businesses in hospitality, gyms, hairdressers, and barbers, she said.

She said the system was designed to bring simplicity to employers.

Wood said vaccinating was the most important thing Kiwis could do to keep whanau and workplaces safe.

Cabinet will require vaccinations for all workers where customers must show vaccination certificates to access a business' services, Wood said.

The timing of the new system coming into effect will depend on when Auckland and New Zealand moves into the government's new traffic light Covid management system.

That could come earlier in Auckland, Ardern said.

In the meantime given there is no exact date for the new traffic light system coming into place, Wood urged workers in these areas to get vaccinated now.

He said employers will have to create workers and their representatives when making risk assessments about whether their staff need to be vaccinated.

Employers can exempt employees from their vaccination mandates, Wood said. That can include those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, though that is a very small number of Kiwis, he said.

Wood said the changes will raise questions about what happens when staff refuse to be vaccinated.

He said the new framework will include a minimum new four-week termination process for any employee who loses their job for refusing a vaccination.

Cabinet considered the issue today after setting out the new traffic light system that will apply once all DHBs have reached 90 per cent vaccination rates – a system that relies heavily on vaccination certificates.

That system will see businesses that opt to only allow vaccinated people into their premises operate under far fewer restrictions than those who decline to use vaccination certificates.

The government has already moved to mandate vaccinations for schools, health workers and in prisons – primarily Government workers.

However, there have been calls for more clarity about how private sector workplaces can operate and whether they can mandate vaccinations or fire workers who refuse to get vaccinated.

Last Friday, Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government had been talking to business groups and unions about what the vaccination certificates would mean for employment law.

He said a bill to introduce the vaccination certificate changes would be introduced to Parliament in the second week of November, and that would also give legal certainty to businesses considering a vaccination requirement for their staff.

"That's thrown up a handful of issues that they want greater clarity on, so we're working through that at the moment."

The move has come under criticism from National and Act for creating different "classes" of people – despite both also supporting the use of vaccine certificates.

The rules need to be set out fairly quickly: Auckland will be able to move to the red light of the traffic lights system once 90 per cent of its DHBs are at 90 per cent, expected to be in six to eight weeks' time.

There were 79 new Covid community cases today after a long weekend which saw a dip in the number of tests and vaccinations carried out. Of those, 33 were unlinked as of 10am today.

Of the new cases, 75 are in Auckland and four are in Waikato.

Tomorrow Hipkins will also set out decisions on the future of MIQ. He said this morning that would include shorter MIQ stays for vaccinated people coming from lower-risk countries.

"Changes will be phased in so that eventually, next year, MIQ will focus more on domestic cases, with fully vaccinated border arrivals facing fewer and fewer restrictions, but more testing."

He said there were fewer positive cases arriving at the border, and the risk from vaccinated Kiwis returning home relative to cases in the community was already changing markedly.

From November 1, being fully vaccinated will be mandatory for all arriving non-New Zealand citizens.

For more information visit covid19.govt.nz.

This article was first published by the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.