Concern over businesses dropping vaccine pass requirements

From Tuesday, vaccine passes are no longer required at businesses, events and venues - though some are opting to keep them.

But among those choosing to ditch the requirement for visitors is an aged residential care company and a leading epidemiologist is concerned.

For four months, life in New Zealand has been no vaccine pass, no coffee, haircut or gym.

But now, it's no longer.

"I'd like to have kept them, I've still got mine and I'd still like to be using it," one person told Newshub.

"I am a bit worried that they have gone," another person said.

Vaccine passes aren't required anymore, but businesses can continue to use them.

Kind Stranger owner and operator Mate Vella has opted to keep scanning people into his Auckland cafe, indefinitely.

"The feedback from that has been pretty positive, I've only had one person that I've had to turn away today,"  he says.

Some of Vella's customers are immunocompromised - he's more concerned for them than he is about losing any business.

"I really care about this community that we've built here. Eden Terrace is awesome, I'd rather keep them coming in and them happy than just a few other people coming in too."

Auckland University epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson says it's too soon to drop the passes.

"The outbreak is far from over. We have probably reached the peak, but we still have a major outbreak on our hands," Prof Jackson says.

Vaccine mandates remain in place for aged care workers, but the Aged Care Association wants to ensure visitors are vaccinated too.

"Our advice, based on clinical input, is that they should be sighting a vaccine pass for visitors," NZ Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace says.

But at least one provider is dropping them.

Bupa NZ has told visitors they'll no longer be required to present a My Vaccine Pass at its care homes or villages.

"At Bupa the health and safety of our residents and team members is our number one priority. We believe it’s important for our residents’ mental health that they may be visited by their families/whānau and friends, especially after spending so much of last year in lockdown," a Bupa spokesperson said.

Bupa said instead of requiring a vaccine pass they are asking all visitors, including children, to undergo a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting their loved one.

But Prof Jackson says RATs are insufficient.

"They're not a particularly good diagnostic test, and for this very at-risk population, I believe they're insufficient."

Bupa says it's conducted a thorough risk assessment and is confident it has all necessary controls in place, without the passes. Its residents can only have up to two visitors at a time and visitors must remain masked.

Meanwhile, Ryman Healthcare and Summerset will continue to check passes and Metlifecare is keeping the requirement for aged care facilities, but dropping it for its independent living villages.

"It is the prerogative of the individual rest homes but we are strongly encouraging the use of the vaccine pass," Wallace says.

Wanting to keep one protective measure in the toolkit, for some of our most vulnerable.