PM reveals date for New Zealand's move to traffic light plan, when hairdressers can reopen in Auckland

The whole of NZ will move into the traffic light framework at 11.59pm on Thursday, December 2, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

"This date provides the certainty for businesses in particular to plan."

She urged people to download the vaccination certificate, which will become critical under the framework for people to get out and about.

Cabinet has also decided to undertake a trial by allowing hairdressers and barbers in Auckland to open from Thursday to vaccinated people, Ardern said at today's post-Cabinet press briefing.

It would be a trial of the vaccination certificates - hairdressers could only take bookings - no walk-ins. All staff must be vaccinated and only vaccinated customers were allowed.

Masks and safety precautions had to be taken.

Ardern said hairdressers were chosen because the seating allowed distancing to be maintained. The trial did not include beauty salons.

Ardern said the vaccination certificate system had been trialled on a small scale, and the verifier app tested, but hairdressers would be able to see how they worked on a larger scale.

She said some would be anxious about the change to the traffic light system, but the number one precaution was still protecting lives and livelihoods.

On why there was no move on hospitality this week, Ardern said the announcement did give them certainty that they could open on December 3 - although Auckland would be at the red light stage.

Other close distance sectors - such as hospitaility and gyms - involved larger numbers. Hairdressing by its nature involved lower numbers of people and would allow an effective test of the vaccination certificate, the PM said.

"This was the lowest-risk one."

Details on traffic light system later this week

Ardern said she will set out key information and details on the traffic light system later this week. More details and a law change will be released this week as well as an app to allow businesses to operate under the vaccination certificate framework.

More details on how positive Covid cases would be handled in the community from a health perspective would also come later this week.

Ardern said vaccine levels would be a key determining factor in what light of the new system each region was put in. "We don't want people yo-yoing. So starting in green is an unlikely place for people."

Auckland would be put into red because of the current outbreak, rather than the vaccination levels. However, regions would be determined by looking at vaccination levels as well as case numbers.

"Regional travel restrictions will not be the norm, hard borders will not be the norm." She said there may be cases of localised lockdowns, but they would not be common.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the decisions on traffic light entry points would also look at whether regions had unvaccinated pockets, and the readiness of each region's health systems to deal with more cases.

Asked if she had any regrets about the earlier decision to break level 3 into different steps, Ardern said the call had been to ease safely if it could be done. "We signalled to people that if we were able to move that is what it would look like, but also not to set an expectation that if we were to move that it would be to [level 2]."

Ardern effectively ruled out a move to level 3.3 for Auckland, saying it was now so close to the traffic light system there was no point. She said re-opening would have been uneconomic at level 3.3 for some businesses because of the caps, but those constraints were not as high under the red light classification.

Ardern said across the whole traffic light system, if you were vaccinated you could lead an ordinary life. What varied from step to step was the rules for large gatherings.

Schools would get sector guidance this week, as would those in charge of large events, on how they would be able to operate at different light colours.

Asked about tangihanga, Ardern said if people did not want to use vaccination certificates then numbers would be more limited, as they are under the current alert level system. It would be up to marae to decide how they would operate under the framework.

"If people chose not to use vaccination certificates, then they don't have to, but there will be limits on numbers."

Ardern will re-visit Auckland on Thursday. Her schedule was still being finalised, but she would meet with business groups and social service providers.

Hospital admissions steady

The announcement comes after 205 community cases were reported today - the fourth-highest daily total - and a man in their 40s had died with Covid-19.

Asked about the person who died, Bloomfield said it was somebody who had been in hospital for a while and his thoughts were with the family.

He said throughout last week, hospital admissions and those in ICU had not increased. "This is a good sign." He said it showed the "profound impact" that vaccinations were having.

Bloomfield said the details on what would prompt a move up and down the lights in the system would be made clearer this week.

Of the 205 new community cases today, 175 are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, 20 are in the Waikato, five are in the Bay of Plenty, one is in Taupō and four are in Northland.

There are 85 people in hospital today, up two from yesterday, with cases at North Shore (20); Middlemore (22); Auckland (38); Whangārei (1); and Waikato (4).

Six people are in ICU or a high-dependency unit. The average number of people in hospital is 48.

Forty-five patients (56 per cent) in hospital have not been vaccinated, the ministry said.

Fifteen (19 per cent) of those hospitalised had one vaccine dose and 18 (22 per cent) were fully vaccinated). The vaccination status of the remaining two cases was unknown.

For more information

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