COVID-19 Update and Information on Mandatory Vaccination for Employees and Contractors

I hope this update finds you refreshed after the long weekend. Labour weekend is often keenly looked forward to by us all, being the first public holiday for some time and after the long haul of the winter months. This year especially I think we all needed some time to recharge and take a break. For those in Auckland and Waikato, it must have been tough to remain in lockdown, but I hope that you were at least able to find some respite from it all by heading outside or spending time with family or friends, while staying safe of course. 

On Friday the Government formally announced New Zealand’s move away from an elimination strategy to one of “minimise and protect”. The focus of the team of five million is now on keeping cases as low as possible and stamping it out where we can. It is clear though, that once our national vaccination status is high enough, we will be joining many other parts of the world in living with the virus in our communities. I know that this is an unsettling situation for many, and it will take some adjustment to get used to when we do finally “open up” New Zealand.
The best protection we have  for ourselves, and our loved ones is to get vaccinated - Today. New Zealand’s vaccine is safe and works in protecting us from severe illness and death. So, if you haven’t already, get vaccinated. To book your vaccine or find a walk in centre please click here

The COVID 19 Protection Framework and vaccination target

On Friday, the Government also announced its new COVID-19 protection framework and the vaccination target that will trigger New Zealand’s transition to it. The framework is intended to minimise the spread of the virus, while still enabling New Zealanders to live as normal lives as possible and our businesses to remain open even when we have cases. As the Prime Minister stated on Friday, “the days of shutting down over one case will be over”. 

The framework is built around a traffic light system of Green, Yellow and Red, with different permissible activities depending on the colour (see below). The new system will come into effect when all DHBs have reached a 90% fully vaccinated rate of their eligible population. However, Auckland will move to Red once its three DHBs have reached 90% full vaccination, regardless of where the rest of New Zealand is at. The regional boundaries will remain in place at this time. Cabinet will be reviewing progress against the target on 29 November.
Key elements of the framework are:
  • Testing, contract tracing and isolation will continue as key tool to minimise any spread of the virus.
  • Localised lockdowns will still be an option if there is rapid growth in cases in some regions. Wider lockdowns, similar to Alert Levels 3 and 4, may also be needed but it is intended that these are no longer used on regular basis or for minor small numbers of cases.
  • Those who are vaccinated will be able to enjoy a number of freedoms that unvaccinated people will not.
  • Businesses should be able to remain operating at all levels depending on their decision to require vaccination certificates from the public.
  • Schools should also be able to remain open at all levels. 

Shifts between levels will rely on:

  • Vaccination coverage
  • Capacity of the healthcare system to cope
  • Testing contract tracing and case management capacity
  • The transmission of COVID-19 within the community, including its impact on key populations

Summaries of the framework are set out below, but more detailed information on the new framework, vaccination certificates, your own vaccination status and the vaccination rates in your area can be found here

Click here to view the above image enlarged.

The role of vaccination certificates  

Requiring a vaccination certificate will remain optional for many locations, but there will be some higher-risk settings where they will be a requirement in order for a business to open to the public, or for the public to access the service, such as:

  • Bars
  • Hairdressers
  • Concerts
  • Festivals
  • Hospitality
  • Gyms

For those businesses where mandatory vaccination certificates are not required, they can still decide to implement a vaccination entry requirement and avoid heavier restrictions under orange and red levels. For businesses that do not wish to implement a proof of vaccination requirement they will have to operate with strict limits or even close in Orange and/or Red levels. 

Supermarkets, pharmacies, health services, food banks and petrol stations will not be able to require vaccination certificates. Children under the age of 12 will not be required to show proof of vaccination and there will be an exemption process to get certification for the small number of people who are unable to get a vaccination for medical reasons.

Personal vaccination certificates

From the end of November, everyone in New Zealand will be able to access a digital vaccination certificate. This will include a QR code, which you can print or save to your phone. You may be required to show this as proof of vaccination in a range of public settings. This could include:

  • events
  • hospitality
  • retail
  • sport
  • faith-based gatherings.

There will be options available for people who do not have a smartphone or access to a computer. You can check and obtain your vaccination record here.

Vaccination rates by region 

As of 24 October, New Zealand had a first dose rate of 87% of the eligible population, and second dose rate of 71%. All of Auckland has a 90% dose rate and a 77% second rate. 

The Government has also announced an $120 million fund to fast track Māori vaccination rates.

To track the DHB vaccination rates please click here.

To track your areas vaccination rates please click here.

Financial support for businesses

The COVID wage subsidy and the Resurgence Support Payment both continue to be available but now with a significant boost from 12 November. The Government is providing up to $940 million per fortnight to support struggling businesses, with a focus on Auckland. The resurgence payment is doubling to a total payment of $43,000, with instalments now paid fortnightly rather than every three weeks. Consideration is ongoing on whether businesses choosing not to use the vaccination certificates will have access to relief payments, with the Minister of Finance indicating he is not of the mind to allow these payments for these businesses. Information about these can be found here

A $60 million fund for business advice and mental health support has also been established. This has been in response to businesses and will include $10 million for mental health and well-being. 

Businesses will be able to apply for up to $3000 worth of advice and planning support, and then receive up to $4000 to implement that advice through the established Regional Business Partners programme.  

As part of the package, $10m is available for mental health and wellbeing support through a programme to be designed with the Employers and Manufacturers' Association and Auckland Business Chamber of Commerce.

Requiring mandatory vaccinations for your business

The issue of mandatory vaccinations of employees is still one causing tension and confusion for many businesses, although this is not stopping many businesses such as The Warehouse Group, PWC, Russell McVeagh and others from pursuing mandatory vaccinations for their staff. A recent survey of 115 New Zealand chief executives of large to medium organisations has also revealed that close to half are planning to mandate vaccinations for either all their workers, or those at risk. 

While the Government has yet to come out and provide legal protection for businesses that implement mandatory vaccinations, there was some good news in Friday’s announcement with Minister Hipkins indicating that the legislation currently being drafted for the new framework will also include matters dealing with businesses who want to implement mandatory vaccinations. There was no detail provided and it was clear the issue is still being worked through. The Bill is likely to be two to three weeks away, but once introduced to the House, should be passed relatively quickly.

In the meantime, the situation remains the same:

Currently, no employer can require staff to be vaccinated. However, an employer can require that certain roles can only be undertaken by a vaccinated employer if a health and safety risk assessment (provided by Worksafe) has been undertaken and determines that there is high enough risk. Click here for information on the risk assessment.

General Information about COVID-19
Click here for our last COVID-19 update.
Click here to find out general information regarding this outbreak
Click here to see the CHASNZ protocols.

Please also continue to check locations of interest and get tested if you have symptoms or have visited a location or suburb of interest.

Kia Kaha. 
David Kelly