News & Thinking

COVID-19 Changes announced

Contributed by:

Anne Wilson
Partner

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Anne Wilson


Lauren Dennehy
Solicitor

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Lauren Dennehy


What are the changes and what do these mean for your business?

This morning (23 March 2022) the New Zealand Government announced significant amendment to vaccination mandates, the COVID-19 Protection Framework and ‘My Vaccine Pass’ requirements.

Following advice sought from health experts, the Government have decided to move away from their months-long approach towards COVID-19, which has been centred around vaccination and gathering limits. Given recent decisions from the judiciary condemning the use of vaccination to reduce transmission of COVID-19 (there is no supporting evidence to suggest vaccination impact on the Omicron strain) it seems as though New Zealand are now relaxing vaccination requirements.

Amendments to Vaccination Mandates

Vaccination Mandates (Mandates) currently require those working in certain positions within the following industries or workplaces to be fully vaccinated in order to continue in their role. ‘Fully vaccinated’ largely refers to having received both doses of a MedSafe approved COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot.

  1. Managed Isolation/Quarantine Facilities (MIQ);
  2. International airports;
  3. International ports;
  4. Airline sector;
  5. Health and disability sector;
  6. Corrections;
  7. Education sector; and
  8. Close-contact business sectors, such as hospitality, fitness, event management, etc.

As at 11:59 pm Monday, 4 April 2022, the Government have announced that persons working within the in the education, police and defence force sectors will no longer need to be fully vaccinated in order to continue working in their positions. This same change will also impact businesses requiring vaccine passes for entry such as hospitality businesses, who will also no longer need to employ/engage a fully vaccinated workforce.

For those working in certain positions within the health and disability, aged care, corrections, international airports, international ports, airline and MIQ sectors it will continue to be a requirement that they are vaccinated in order for them to work in their role.

Vaccination Requirement established by Businesses following Risk Assessment

We understand that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will provide further information on individual businesses requiring fully vaccinated employees on the basis of their own health and safety risk assessments and we will update this article when this becomes available. For the meantime, we advise businesses to review their health and safety risk assessments to ensure that any vaccination requirements are still justified in the current environment, particularly in light of these recent announcements. A recent Court of Appeal decision has also signalled that the requirement to be vaccinated may not be justifiable where Omicron is endemic in the community, as vaccination status has a negligible impact on transmission of COVID-19. Businesses should take these factors into account when assessing the efficacy of vaccination requirements.

My Vaccine Passes

Given the 95% vaccination rate of New Zealand’s population and the likely immunity of those that are unvaccinated as a result of having already contracted COVID-19, from 11:59 pm Monday 4 April 2022 vaccine passes will no longer be required for entry to premises. Such premises includes hospitality venues.

Event organisers or businesses are however able to conduct their own risk assessment and continue to utilise vaccine pass scanning as part of their tools to address the health and safety risk of COVID-19 if their risk assessment justifies this. The Government have confirmed that the vaccine pass scanning system will be maintained.

Use of QR Codes

Businesses will no longer be required to enforce QR code scanning for patrons to enter their premises from this weekend onwards. High risk environments such as aged care facilities and businesses operating within the medical sectors should however continue to contact trace using QR codes.

We are encouraged to continue to keep the ‘QR Code App’ downloaded on our mobile devices as in the event that a new variant of COVID-19 arises then scanning and QR codes may become mandatory again.

Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) Requirements

RATs may regularly be taken by the general New Zealand public and the Government have announced a home delivery service for disabled persons or otherwise those impaired and who cannot reasonably attend testing stations.

COVID-19 Protection Framework

We will remain at the ‘Red’ setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, which is determined by high rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisation as a result. However, from 11:59 pm this Friday 25 March 2022 indoor gathering limits can increase to 200 persons however seating will still be required for all but private events. For example, the hospitality sector will still be required to seat their patrons if indoors. From this same date, there will no longer be any limits on outdoor gathering sizes. This means that sporting events, concerts and other community events will not be required to adhere to any gathering restrictions.

Regular reviews of our current traffic light setting under the COVID-19 Protection Framework will be conducted, with the first review to be held on Monday, 4 April 2022. No changes to the ‘Green’ traffic light setting have been announced, however indoor events at the ‘Orange’ traffic light setting of over 500 people must provide either extra capacity or seating and masks will be strongly encouraged.

Key dates

  • 11:59 pm Friday, 25 March 2022: Indoor gathering limits can increase to 200 however seating and masks will still be required for the hospitality sector. Limits on outdoor gatherings will be removed.
  • From this weekend: QR code scanning for patrons to enter businesses will no longer be required.
  • 11:59 pm Monday, 4 April 2022: Vaccine passes will no longer be required. Event organisers or businesses may wish to utilise vaccine passes and the Government will maintain the system but there is no requirement.
  • 11:59 pm Monday, 4 April 2022: People working in the education, police, defence force sectors and those businesses requiring vaccine passes for entry will no longer be required to be fully vaccinated to continue in their positions.

If you, or your organisation, have concerns or questions regarding how these changes may impact you, get in touch.