Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The next steps have been announced

Last night, the Waikato moved to Alert Level 2. At today’s media conference, the Prime Minister announced the date Aucklanders can leave the city, and what the requirements will be, along with when the new “traffic light” system will begin. It turns out, I pretty much got my predictions right.

The most important thing for Aucklanders, and those of us wanting to go to Auckland, is that the border opens on December 15. Vaccinated people will be able to leave Auckland by showing their “My Vaccine Pass” (about which, more in a bit), and unvaccinated people will have to produce proof of a negative Covid test taken 72 hours before they leave. Unvaccinated people will be able to enter Auckland, but I presume they’d need a negative test to leave again. Children under 12 are exempt from the requirements because they cannot be vaccinated right now (that might begin around April next year).

People flying out of Auckland will also need to produce proof of vaccination or a negative test result, something that Air New Zealand has already said will apply to all their flights nationwide beginning in December. Today the government also announced that passengers on the Cook Strait Ferry from Wellington to the South Island will have to be fully vaccinated or have a negative test. This is a way to help protect South Islanders (it’s also something I’ve been advocating for awhile now, but it was impossible to do without the vaccine pass).

Anyone violating these new rules can be fined $1000 (today, roughly US$700).

The “My Vaccine Pass” is available as of today. Like a lot of people, I haven’t been able to get through on the Ministry’s website because it’s overloaded. Still, as of midday today some 60,000 people had already downloaded their passes. Demand has remained strong all day.

I enthusiastically support and endorse all of this: It’s exactly what needs to be done. It’s also pretty much in line with what I was saying last night.

Last night, I said that New Zealand would have to transition to the new “traffic light” system some time before Auckland’s borders will open, and we will. The Prime Minister said today that Cabinet will reaffirm the decision to move the entire country to the new system on Monday, November 29, and it would happen “soon after” that date. She didn’t specify when, precisely, that might be, but December 1 is exactly two weeks before the border opens, so I’m betting it’ll be around then. That will give everyone a couple weeks to get used to the new system before it really matters: When Aucklanders start travelling.

The Prime Minister also added that the specific “traffic light” colour will depend on the vaccination rates within a DHB area: If they’re not at 90% fully-vaccinated, they’ll be at “Red”, a level at which only vaccinated people can be in places like bars and restaurants. Essentially, vaccinated people will be living similarly to Alert Level 2 now, and unvaccinated people will be living under conditions similar to Alert Level 3 Lockdown. The Prime Minister said that because of its current outbreak, Auckland would initially be at “Red”, which means that the unvaccinated will still be under restrictions similar to what they have at the moment, but vaccinated people will be living like everyone else in New Zealand is currently living. I should add that she didn’t say Auckland wouldn’t change Alert Levels ahead of the move to the new system, which could be a couple weeks away. We’ll know more on Monday, but I can see good arguments for moving them (get them used to greater freedoms) and for not moving them (apparently, some 100,000 people are still not vaccinated). I don’t have a strong opinion about what will happen, but I suppose I might lean toward “no change”, though neither action would surprise me.

One advantage of keeping DHB areas with low vaccination rates at “Red”—aside from protecting the unvaccinated—is that it’ll provide an incentive for people to get both jabs (in all DHBs, the number with one jab is always higher than the number with both, which is logical, really). By announcing today that the new system is starting soon, it gives an incentive for unvaccinated people to hurry up and get their first jab because, for example, anyone vaccinated today can get their second jab on December 1, and their vaccine will be fully effective two weeks after that, when the Auckland border opens. But being able to enjoy all the freedoms associated with being fully vaccinated on Day One of the new system will give those with a single dose a powerful incentive to get their second jab as soon as possible, too.

I think that placing DHB areas with low vaccination rates under “Red” is a really good solution. It will help keep them safer, while at the same time allowing the fully vaccinated to get on with more normal life. That meets my number one criteria for change: That the fully-vaccinated—who did exactly what was asked of them—are no longer held hostage by the unvaccinated.

But, the anti-government types will moan, what about “freedom”? There’s no problem here whatsoever. People have the right to make their own choice to remain unvaccinated—but but they have NO right to also avoid the consequences of their choice. If choosing to remain unvaccinated causes them to miss out on summer fun, or, more seriously, to lose their job, there aren’t many people in New Zealand who’d have much sympathy for them. Demanding the “freedom” to make a choice about vaccination and also demanding to be able to make that choice without any consequences whatsoever isn’t “freedom”, it’s adolescence.

In my opinion, the government’s moves strike the right balance between opening up the country and keeping New Zealanders safe, between the rights of people who are protecting the community and themselves by being vaccinated, while also preserving the rights of people to reject vaccination (with possible consequences for doing so, of course). It means controlling Covid without wreaking havoc on the economy or society by using the heavy, blunt force and burden of Lockdowns.

Critics, as the Prime Minister pointed out today, will complain that the government didn’t move fast enough, or that it's moving too fast. I think that it’s made exactly the right call to let us get on with life while keeping us safe. Vaccination is the one thing that’s made this possible, and if some people can’t or won’t accept that, that’s on them. The vast majority of us will just keep calm, be vaccinated, stay healthy, and carry on.

Bring on summer!


Roger Owen Green said...

This post (and the previous one) inspired a post having NOTHING to do with the topic. It'll show up before Christmas but I'm not sure when.

Arthur Schenck said...

Ooooo, intriguing!