Coronavirus: Health Minister Andrew Little confirms November 29 is not 'Freedom Day'

Bad news for Aucklanders expecting to escape the city before the end of this month - the Health MInister says the so-called 'Freedom Day' that's been reported widely is nothing of the sort. 

November 29 "is now circled on every desk and wall calendar in Auckland", Newsroom reported this week, while Newstalk ZB reported "Ardern signalled the city's own 'freedom day' is November 29" - and they weren't the only ones

And the Prime Minister this week said shifting all of New Zealand into the new traffic light framework when Auckland does "could play a role in helping us drive [vaccination] rates up", ending alert level and travel restrictions nationwide.

"Most DHBs are rapidly getting there," Health Minister Andrew Little told Newshub Nation on Saturday. 

"In fact, we expect the Auckland DHBs to exceed that. The payback for getting to that level of vaccination - which would be one of the leading levels in the world - is that we do start to reduce restrictions."

But that's absolutely not going to happen on November 29, he said. 

"Not at all… You might have misunderstood what the Prime Minister has been saying," he told host Simon Shepherd. 

"The Prime Minister said on the 29th of November, Cabinet will do a significant check-in on the state of the system… as we start to make decisions about the introduction of of the COVID Protection Framework - the traffic light system. 

"It won't be introduced from the 29th of November - that is the point at which a decision should be expected to be made, but it won't be introduced straight away."

The reason? The longer we wait, the better our vaccination coverage will be - particularly for lagging groups like Māori, many of whom were last to be eligible and have a high distrust of the health system. 

"That's why we still have a few weeks up our sleeves to continue that. But the reality is with a highly-vaccinated population we can't keep things restricted and locked down forever. We do have to start relaxing. That does mean COVID will start washing through the rest of the country and the system has to be prepared - and it will be prepared."

But the restrictions will lift before Christmas, Little said.

"[Ardern] wants to give people an assurance that certainly when it comes to Christmas and summer, we will be reducing restrictions… We know people want to start travelling into the country and out of it as well, so we will make a decision about the borders and when we'll relax those. 

"But from the 29th of November when Cabinet goes through all of those issues, you should expect some certainty about the timeframes for each of those things. It won't be on the 29th of November. That's when Cabinet will consider it and make decisions."

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