Sunday, November 28

Diary of a Time Traveler: Covid-19 Restrictions in March 2022 – What You Need to Know

Explainer – Soon, the alert level system, which is becoming increasingly complex, will be replaced by traffic lights. Join RNZ on a journey into the future to see what that means.


Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

New Zealand’s alert levels, in particular, appear to have been an effective tool, but they have changed dramatically from what they were before, now including 2.5, Delta 2, and various steps from alert level 3 to alert level 2.

However, with vaccines promising to change the way New Zealand responds to the pandemic, the traffic light system announced last month is poised to replace it. It’s been criticized as complicated, but it offers a fresh start on how we approach restrictions.

Meanwhile, work continues on planning changes to the international border and what it looks like.

So let’s forget about what happened before and look directly at what regional restrictions and travel, including to and from abroad, will look like in the future.

Below, we’ll explore an optimistic example of what New Zealand’s restrictions might be expected to look like in March 2022, roughly two years after Covid-19 first arrived in New Zealand.

Traffic lights: the new alert levels

New Zealand’s DHBs have passed 90 percent double vaccinations, and the country has dropped alert levels entirely, moving to the Covid-19 Protection Framework, also known as the traffic light system.

This system has three levels: green, orange (or amber, depending on who you’re talking to) and red. Kermit can sing about the hardships of being green, but it’s so much easier than being red or locked in.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

Auckland was the first to move, having reached 90 percent of double vaccination In its three DHBs in early December, the region moved to Red.

The rest of New Zealand took a little longer. The South Island DHBs hit the 90 percent target and moved to Orange just before the new year. Some travel restrictions were introduced between the north and south islands, or outside of Auckland (rapid antigen test before travel and no symptoms).

A great effort was made to cross the line with the last small regions on the North Island, particularly remote and rural areas, and those with large Maori populations, and it was announced that the rest of the North Island would turn orange in mid February, and the Auckland regional border would eventually be torn down.

Meanwhile, with few cases showing up, most of the South Island moved to Green in late February. Cases continued to appear in Christchurch, and the city (but not all of Canterbury) remained in orange for a while longer before the success of the high rate of vaccines in slowing the spread of the virus encouraged the government to move it to Green.

The situation now, in March 2022

In March, the long tail of Delta continues to keep Auckland in the red, but the number of daily cases is slowing down. Some of the cities where the virus had been rapidly circulating have been subjected to occasional additional lockdown measures, and people have been encouraged not to leave their home.

Parts of Northland and Gisborne, some of the slowest areas to vaccinate and where the virus started spreading from Auckland, have also been in the red, with occasional bouts of lockdown.

The South Island is now green. The North Island areas have also moved to Green, but Orange is still used in some areas where the virus has been circulating.

Despite the greater freedoms offered by the new traffic light system and changes at the border, the virus has continued to advance in parts of the country.

As Covid-19 modeler Shaun Hendy warned in November, the switch to the traffic light system indicates acceptance of some Covid-19 circulating in the community.

While cases peaked at around 300 a day in late November, it has taken some time to get the outbreak truly under control, and while the cases have not gotten out of control, they have continued to spread.

Occupied hospital beds also peaked at the same time, but hospitals have not been overwhelmed thanks to the closure precautions.

Some deaths have been reported.

International travel and MIQ

After a couple of weeks with all of New Zealand moving to the traffic light system, the government introduced changes to the border.

All travelers must make a declaration, digital or on paper, of their vaccination and test information.

However, fully vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries can now enter New Zealand without needing to isolate themselves at all if they return a negative test.

Travelers who are not vaccinated, or who come from high-risk countries, still need to spend 14 days in MIQ.

After the success (fingers crossed) of the at home self-isolation test which ended in December, the government announced that vaccinated travelers from medium-risk countries could isolate themselves at home.

People doing this has to answer a randomly scheduled video call three times a day that detects the location via GPS, and you can only leave your room to collect food and contactless deliveries, for testing, or to get some fresh air if they have a backyard to which no one else agrees.

The room must not having shared ventilation and being occupied only by the affected travel group; This means that there is no contact with your family unless they are traveling with you.

The government has also signaled that it plans to soon allow all fully vaccinated travelers who return a negative test to skip isolation, regardless of the country they come from. There are also plans in the works to allow tourism from other countries.

This is based on models and expectations, along with decisions already announced by the government, but there is always an element of the unknown: the “deceptive” virus, new technologies and unexpected situations.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department said:

Details of how the Covid-19 Protection Framework and guidance for different sectors will be implemented is still being worked on, and more information will be provided once Cabinet decisions are made.

In relation to locks, the Covid-19 protection framework will reduce our dependence on them as the main measure to stop the spread of the virus. As indicated, there may be a need for localized and highly targeted roadblocks, and potentially broader roadblocks, such as those we currently see under the Alert Level system, if the public health response requires it.

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