The evidence shows we are coming off the Omicron peak with cases in Auckland having already declined significantly, and a decline expected nationally by early April.
To date we have had more than 500,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and expert modellers say there have probably been 1.7 million actual infections. That figure, coupled with 95 percent of New Zealanders being fully vaccinated, means we now have a high level of collective immunity.
New Zealanders have worked incredibly hard to get through this pandemic and as a result of those efforts we are now in a position to move forward and change the way we do things.
First up we have simplified the COVID-19 Protection Framework to target restrictions at those activities that reduce transmission the most.
From 4 April, My Vaccine Pass will no longer be required by the Government meaning Kiwis will no longer have to be vaccinated in order to enter those venues covered by the Pass. Scanning in requirements for the vaccinated will also end.
We recognise that some businesses, events or venues may still choose to use vaccine passes, so we will maintain the infrastructure for them.
From 4 April, vaccine mandates will be removed, except for health and disability, aged care, corrections and border workforces.
Like many other countries we are retaining a small number of mandates targeted at keeping our COVID-19 frontline staff safe and to ensure our most vulnerable, like those in aged care facilities or those with disabilities, are protected from the virus.
For many this part of our defence against COVID-19 was one of the hardest. But mandates meant we reached the levels of vaccination needed to prevent the devastating outbreaks seen across the world.
We have also used the evidence gathered over the last few months on Omicron to make changes to the Red and Orange settings.
From midnight this Friday outdoor gathering limits will be lifted. We know being outdoors for gatherings is safe. We want to encourage that, especially at Red.
We also believe we can lift indoor gathering limits at Red with little material impact on hospitalisations, so these will double from 100 to 200.
Orange settings remain broadly the same with no gathering limits but extra guidance on holding safe events, and a new requirement for workers to wear masks at indoor events.
And so, simply put, Red means indoor gathering limits and masks, Orange means masks, and Green means guidance.
At all levels, the testing and isolation requirements remain as they are now.
We are keeping the traffic light framework in order to offer ongoing protections in the event of a new variant or in cases of future surges, but our plan is to move down to Orange and then ultimately Green once it is safe to do so.
Putting people’s health is the best economic approach. The hard work and sacrifices of New Zealanders delivered the lowest numbers of cases and deaths in the OECD for the last two years and puts us in the best position to recover strongly.
With our cases coming down it’s time to take our next steps with confidence in the collective immunity and protections we have built up. These new settings support greater economic activity and get everyone closer to feeling a bit more normal, while also continuing to manage COVID-19 and provide protection and care for those who need it most.
With our economy now larger than pre-COVID levels, record low levels of unemployment, and tourism about to reopen we are in a strong position to accelerate our recovery. Our COVID-19 restrictions have been tough, but they have delivered a strong foundation for us to move forward.