The Government may not be prepared to go as far as “no jab, no job” mandatory vaccinations, but it is preparing to introduce the next best thing, vaccine certificates.
Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, confirmed yesterday that the upcoming “traffic light” system of managing Covid would require the certificates.
“We’ve been working on the framework for a number of weeks,” she said.
She said the new system would use the certificates.
“And so in order for those to be used, of course, you have to have reasonable levels of vaccination, and we also have to have the vaccination certificate regime in place,” she said.
“But I think the framework itself will also be an incentive because it uses vaccination certificates as well.
“And so people will be able to see that and have time to adapt and get ready for it.”
Auckland businesses want to be able to make the certificates mandatory for admission to business premises.
A group of Auckland business organisations has proposed that the Government sort the legal issues out by the end of November so Auckland can properly open up in December.
They have also suggested that double vaccination should be the only requirement to cross the Auckland border and for domestic air travel.
They have the support of the National Party, whose Covid-19 spokesperson, Chris Bishop confirmed that they supported the right of business, being able to say that only vaccinated people could enter their premises.
Requirements to show the certificates are likely to go beyond business.
POLITIK understands universities are exploring the idea of requiring them.
Already students wanting to live in one of Victoria University’s halls of residence will be required to show evidence they have been fully vaccinated before they will be able to move into a room in the halls next year.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said the decision followed a detailed risk assessment, including reviewing the University’s obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Pastoral Care Code of Practice. Consultation with staff and with student representative groups, and the Tertiary Education Union has also taken place.
The University is also currently considering requirements for others who work in its halls of residence, such as contractors and external providers of maintenance and other services.
The request from the Auckland business groups about the certificates is part of a package of proposals that they have given Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash after they met him last Thursday.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that Finance Minister Grant Robertson was currently working on “an enhanced business support package” for Auckland, which he would unveil on Friday.
But that is also when the Government is to finally unveil the “traffic light system”, which the Prime Minister is now calling the “Covid protection framework.”
This will include vaccination targets.
“We will establish a vaccination target or, as Dr Bloomfield calls it, a milestone for Auckland and New Zealand in order to move into that framework and to start easing restrictions,” she said.
“The target will be high to give us the greatest confidence possible.
“We’ve looked closely at the evidence overseas and what works and what doesn’t.
“We’ll be aligning our target with those countries that have managed the transition from restrictions to vaccination and the safest way possible.
“But regardless, we hope that this will give Aucklanders especially as much certainty as possible about what lies ahead and, importantly, a goal that we can all rally behind.”
How high the Prime Minister means when she talked about a “high” target yesterday is unclear.
She refused to give any details.
But Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modeller and mathematics professor Dr Michael Plank said yesterday that to have any “significant” easing, such as to alert level 2, we would need to be looking at “really high” vaccination rates – in the order of 90-95 per cent of all eligible people.
That target has not been achieved by any country similar to New Zealand.
The United Arab Emirates are the most vaccinated in the world, but Portugal is second with a double vaccination rate of 85.52 per cent.
Even so, the country lifted almost all restrictions on October 1, including requirements to wear masks indoors and even removed the obligation to show the digital vaccination certificate when entering shops, bars and restaurants.
The Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, have also begun to lift restrictions and their double vaccination rates vary between 65 and 75 per cent.
New Zealand is at 66 per cent fully vaccinated.
However, in his advice to the Government on lifting restrictions, Professor Sir David Skegg warned about using average vaccination rates.
“Our advice would be merely to explain to the community that getting as near as possible towards 100% of all adults vaccinated (without particular groups being neglected) will enable New Zealand to reconnect with the world with the least disruption, illness and death toll from COVID-19,” he said.
Skegg said once vaccination had been offered to all of the eligible population, he assumed that border restrictions would start to be relaxed.
“No doubt a section of the community would prefer that we wait until there is no risk of causing outbreaks of COVID-19, but sadly that day may never come,” he said.
And he argued against a simple threshold.
“Because there is always heterogeneity among groups in the population in the extent to which people are at risk of encountering the virus. For example, Pasifika people in SouthAuckland often live in crowded housing, and they may attend large family gatherings and church services, where the risk of transmission during an outbreak is enhanced. As a result, their herd immunity threshold will be higher than for the population at large.
“In other words, a greater proportion of people in that community would need to be vaccinated in order to achieve community protection.”
The Ministry of Health reported yesterday that 59.3 per cent of Pasifika were now fully vaccinated compared with 67.5 per cent of Pakeha and only 44.6 per cent of Maori.
Much of the Government focus at the moment is on getting the non-Pakeha rates, particularly Maori, up.
The Prime Minister would not answer a question yesterday about whether the Government believed the Maori vaccination rate should go to 90 per cent. She said that detail would be released on Friday.
All she would say was that “we will have a milestone as it were, an entry point.”
Auckland central business district businesses estimate they have lost $870 million or $675,000 a business this year because of lockdowns.
That is why they want to use vaccinations and vaccination certificates to control the spread of Covid rather than having to close their doors.