Jacinda Ardern considers moving all of NZ into 'traffic light' framework with Auckland to help drive COVID-19 vaccination rates up

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering moving all of New Zealand into the new 'traffic light' framework with Auckland to help drive up COVID-19 vaccination rates. 

The Government announced the new traffic light system to replace the alert levels last month. It would come into force once 90 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated across each DHB, but Auckland could shift sooner given its high rates. 

Auckland has hit more than 90 percent first dose, and Ardern on Monday said it's Cabinet's expectation that on November 29, Auckland will have hit 90 percent double dose, and could shift into the traffic light framework.

What freedoms people have will be determined by vaccine certificates. For example, when Auckland enters the 'red' light, hospitality venues can open with up to 100 fully vaccinated people, but businesses that choose not to use certificates must remain contactless. 

While that's great for Auckland given its months of lockdown, Ardern has acknowledged in an interview with Newsroom's Jo Moir that there is little incentive for people in alert level 2 to get vaccinated, because there are fewer freedoms for them under the traffic light system. 

In alert level 2 Wellington, for example, unvaccinated people are free to enter any premises they choose. But when Wellington enters the traffic light system, suddenly people will be forced to prove they've been vaccinated to enter gyms, gigs, and more.  

Ardern told Newsroom shifting all of New Zealand into the new traffic light framework when Auckland does "could play a role in helping us drive rates up". 

She added: "We haven't made any decisions, but I do have in the back of my mind that that was the way in which it was designed to work.''

The rest of the country is catching up, at 90 percent first dose. But that's not across all regions. Tairawhiti is the lowest at 81 percent first dose, so it remains to be seen if Rhythm and Vines will go ahead, given the organisers have said they need to see 90 percent

It's not yet clear how regional travel will work. Ardern has promised Aucklanders they'll be able to travel over summer, but she hasn't ruled out state-allocated times for leaving the city to prevent traffic build-up as officials check vaccine certificates. 

The idea was widely ridiculed but COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government needed to work through its options

As for the rest of the country, summer travel also remains unclear. Wellingtonians in alert level 2, for example, can freely travel to other COVID-free parts of the country, but that could change once Aucklanders are set free. 

Cabinet is expected to provide some clarity on Monday. 

As for the international border, Ardern shows no signs of changing her stance on forcing arrivals to spend seven days in a state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility, despite experts pointing out the rooms would be better served accommodating local COVID-19 cases

"Our priority in the first quarter of next year is allowing those double-vaccinated Kiwis overseas who can self-isolate at home to return to New Zealand shores," she told Newsroom. 

"We've been very clear it would be staged. We're not just lifting the border and letting everyone in, because if we're using self-isolation you have to focus on the people who have the ability to self-isolate, which is New Zealand citizens.''

On Thursday, 152 COVID-19 cases were detected in Auckland, and none in MIQ. 

Figures released by National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop show more than 230,000 people haven't been able to secure a spot in MIQ due to such high demand and more than 80,000 have signed a petition to get rid of it. 

"If you have no measures at the border, then you do see additional cases, and that causes your outbreaks to grow quite significantly," Ardern told reporters on Monday. 

"Even with self-isolation, there are some estimates that if you had 20,000 citizens returning, that even with self-isolation, you'll have up to 20 cases a week being seeded in the community."