Covid 19 Delta outbreak: MIQ, schools, and vax mandates on list of sweeping Covid reforms

The Government is embarking on a week of sweeping Covid-19 policy changes as it transitions away from the elimination strategy.

Changes to the length of MIQ stays went to the Cabinet on Monday and will be announced today. This is likely to mean shorter says in MIQ for some returning Kiwis, depending on where they have travelled from.

It is the first step on the road to eventually getting rid of MIQ.

Also expected to be announced this week is a decision on when school pupils in Years 1 to 10 will be allowed to return to class in Auckland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not be drawn on what the Cabinet had decided on Monday, saying Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins would announce these changes, likely on Wednesday.

“Top of mind for us has been making sure that whatever we do is undertaken as safely as possible – particularly when you factor in that decision-making here will impact those who may not be able to be vaccinated,” Ardern said.

As much as 40 per cent of New Zealand’s entire workforce will be required to be vaccinated or face losing their jobs, under sweeping new changes announced byArdern on Tuesday.

Those who opt-out will get four weeks, or their contracted notice period, to get their jabs or face the sack.

The changes were unveiled against the backdrop of allegations made by National and ACT that the Government was making unvaccinated Kiwis second-class citizens by restricting their freedoms.

The vaccine rules would require any employee working in a role where customers need to show Covid vaccination certificates to be vaccinated themselves.

That means hospitality, events, and other close contact businesses like gyms and hairdressers.

Minister for Workplace Relations and SafetyMichael Wood said the rules were the result of calls from “employers and employees to provide certainty on what roles need to be done by vaccinated workers under the Covid-19 Protection Framework”.

Wood would not say when the new rules would take effect, but said the precise timing would depend on when the Government shifted from the alert-level system to the “protection framework”, better known as the new traffic light system.

Currently, businesses are able to do their own risk assessment to mandate vaccinations in their workplaces, but both businesses and unions have raised concerns that existing rules are not clear enough and do not provide employers with legal protection.

Wood said that employers will also be required to “keep records about workers’ vaccination status”.

“MBIE will work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to provide practical guidance on how to ensure workers’ records are handled appropriately,” Wood said.

The Government also announced a fix that would clarify that workers are able to have paid time off to get a vaccination.

The move was welcomed by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff who described it as a “practical step”.

“This provides certainty for these businesses who have been seeking clarity on this matter, will help ensure that staff are safe at work, and will give Aucklanders confidence to shop, dine out, and enjoy all the things that make our city such a great place to live,” Goff said.

“The requirement will effectively mandate vaccination for around 40 per cent of the workforce in Auckland, helping to further drive uptake of the vaccine as we strive to reach 90 per cent of the eligible population getting their second dose,” he said.

There were 79 new cases of Covid-19 in the community reported yesterday, the lowest daily rate in more than a week. It is possible, however, the low rate was down to less testing over the long weekend.

Of those new cases, 33 were unlinked, bringing the 14-day total of unlinked cases to 281. A meagre 3492 people received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday, bringing the national total of people who have received a single dose to 87 per cent.

The Government faced criticism from National and ACT that tighter vaccination rules were creating a second class of citizens.

The attack appeared to backfire on National leader Judith Collins, whose party had only weeks ago said vaccinated people should have “greater freedoms…compared to people who are unvaccinated”.

Collins later had to issue a clarifying statement, saying National was only in favour of restricting freedoms of unvaccinated people using vaccination certificates until New Zealand had vaccinated 90 per cent of the eligible population.

“We support short-term widespread use of proof of vaccination as we continue our vaccination drive. As Kiwis get vaccinated, the Government should be relaxing restrictions on them. If Aucklanders had proof of vaccination now, we could relax travel limits on them and they could leave Auckland,” Collins said.

“The National Party doesn’t agree with the Government in their plan to impose restrictions with the mandatory use of vaccine certificates after we have hit their vaccine target of 90 per cent across all DHBs,” she said.

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