Government sets 90% vaccination target; unveils 'traffic light system', No Māori target

By Te Ao - Māori News

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen in Pōneke and Will Trafford in Tāmaki.

The government has announced an end for COVID-19 lockdowns and unveiled a 'traffic light' system to replace the Covid-19 alert level System.

PM Jacinda Ardern told media that cabinet set a 90 percent vaccination target for every DHB in the motu. Hitting the target triggers the new system which sees virtually all businesses and schools reopen.

Cabinet declined to set a higher target for Māori who are 50 percent more likely to die from Covid or suffer complications, opting instead for a $120 million fund to accelerate Māori vaccination.

'Traffic Light System'

Under the new system businesses and schools will open regardless of alert levels, but vaccine passports will be a requirement to operate unimpeded.

"Now we have vaccines, we can’t ask vaccinated people to stay home forever," Ardern said.

While lockdowns could still be used, they would be hyper-local to specific areas where outbreaks are uncontrolled.

Under the new Red, Orange, Green system businesses will be required to check vaccine passports before allowing people on their premises.

At red, the virus is spreading quickly, gathering limits will be in place and masks will be required. While working from home would be encouraged, it wouldn't be required.

Auckland will move into red as soon as all 3 DHBs hit the 90% target.

"I know this has been so hard, but you are so close," Ardern said.

The rest of the country will move to Orange once vaccination hits 90%. While there are no gathering restrictions, if a business refuses to use vaccine passports, they will have to close.

At Green, face masks will no longer be required anywhere but on flights.

Ardern reiterated that under what she described as a "distinctive, world-leading" approach, life will be tough for those who choose not to be vaccinated.

She also had a message for the unvaccinated. "If you are not vaccinated, there will be everyday things you will miss out on," says Ardern 

Arden says, “Vaccinations are our armour. They help keep us safe.

"If you want to go to a restaurant or bar, get vaccinated. If you want to go to a gym or sports event, get vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated every day there will be things you miss out on.

"And if you are vaccinated you can be assured that in the new framework, you will get to enjoy the things you love, secure in the knowledge that the people around you, and the environment you are in, is as safe as possible in a COVID world.

"If you have done the right thing to keep yourself and others safe, to look after one another, you should feel safe. You should be protected from those who haven’t made that choice."

Māori Vaccination Rates

Cabinet Minister Peeni Henare said, "Currently, 67% (384,711) of the eligible Māori population have had at least one dose, of those 46% (265,424) are now fully vaccinated."

While an equitable outcome is a goal and each DHB is tasked with accelerating vaccinations to reach the goal of 90% vaccination across their districts there is no Māori specific vaccination rate.

However, both Minister Henare and the Prime Minister say there has been a "team of 5 million" approach and the funding set out offered to boost the Māori rollout will ensure the boost needed for Māori vaccination rates that are only around halfway to the 90% goal. 

Reaching 90% could mean that 50,000 people would still be unvaccinated. 

Funding for Māori Vaccination rate boost 

A two-phase $120 million funding boost will see $60 million to be funded directly to support iwi and Māori community providers to accelerate vaccination uptake over the next two months. The focus will be on areas where there are low vaccination rates for Māori - those areas currently include Counties Manukau, Lakes District, Taranaki and Tairawhiti, Northland and Bay of Plenty DHB areas.

The Associate Minister of Health (Māori), Peeni Henare says,  “We need to pull out all the stops to ensure whānau are protected when the new protection framework is put in place. We know the recent lift in vaccination rates is the direct result of funding Māori providers and of Māori leadership efforts at a regional and national level. We need this to continue."

Henare says, “From hāngi and vouchers, walk-in clinics and vax buses, partnerships with iwi, local communities and businesses, communities going door-to-door, vaccinations on sports fields and at kura and many more initiatives - we’ve seen what works and this fund will support more of it.” 

The second phase will see $60 million for iwi, Māori and community-led and designed initiatives to adapt their community's social infrastructure for the new framework. 

The Minister for Te Arawhiti, Kelvin Davis said, "We have heard calls from across Māori society that they need extra support to help get to their people. This funding provides us an opportunity to partner with and support iwi and Māori as we continue through our COVID-19 recovery." He adds, “Te Arawhiti has been working with iwi throughout our COVID-19 response and this direct funding continues to build the Māori-Crown partnership.”  

Minister of Māori Development Willie Jackson says, “Ministers have met regularly with Māori leaders. We are unanimous in our view that we need to inject further resources into local Māori-focused initiatives so we can support providers and communities to keep the vaccination momentum going – and we need to do that rapidly."

"Examples of activities that might be funded include support for testing and other public health measures under the new framework; community outreach and mobilisation of resources to support rapid responses to any outbreak; support for diagnosis and home-isolation."

Support in place

"Cabinet has agreed to make it easier for low-income workers to receive assistance for items such as food and other emergency costs,” Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said.

The supports put in place are in consideration of the road ahead in the battle against Covid. 

“We know the extended COVID-19 restrictions are having an impact on low-income households who tend to have less certainty of work. Currently, a single person working 30 hours per week on the minimum wage is not eligible for hardship assistance from Work and Income. We’re lifting the income limits for assistance to 40 hours at the minimum wage, or $800 per week and $1600 per week for a couple with or without children." she said.

The Minister of Social Development says supports are available. “Expanding the income limits for Hardship Support will mean more low-income individuals and families will be able to get support."

Supuloni added: “The temporary income eligibility criteria will come into force from November 1 for four months. February 28, 2022 will be the last day the increased limits will apply."

Ardern said the vaccination rates will be assessed on November 29; regions such as the South Island where there is no COVID-19 could move to the new system early, were they just shy of the 90 percent target.