Jacinda Ardern 'working through how we might enable public to raise concerns' about COVID-19 vaccine pass compliance

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is "working through how we might enable the public to raise concerns" about COVID-19 vaccine pass compliance.

Ardern's comments came after New Zealanders experienced their first weekend in the new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, which has permanently replaced the alert levels. 

Freedoms are now determined by vaccination status and over the weekend there were reports of fraudulent vaccine certificates being used to enter premises restricted to the unvaccinated, such as hospitality venues. 

In March 2020, an online form was set up by police to report incidents of alert level breaches, which crashed after it was flooded with complaints. The Government is now looking to set up something similar for vaccine pass complaints. 

The latest police update shows 8582 online breach complaints relating to businesses, mass gatherings or people in Tāmaki Makaurau, Northland, and parts of the Waikato - regions that experienced the most time in alert level 3 lockdown. 

"We do want to make sure that if passes aren't being checked, the public have a way to raise concerns if there are any, so we're working through how we might enable people to do that if they have concerns," Ardern said on Monday. 

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood told Newshub it would be similar to the police-run alert level complaint system, but would instead be led by WorkSafe. 

"Cabinet's already agreed to provide additional resourcing to WorkSafe who will primarily be the government agency who deals with these issues," Wood said on Tuesday. 

"The approach that WorkSafe always takes when they receive complaints - and they'll be receiving complaints and they'll be responding to those - is to get alongside the business or the PBCU [Person Conducting A Business] to educate and support them to be compliant, but then if necessary to enforce."

An amendment to the COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill made the buying and selling of a vaccine certificate a criminal offence with penalties of up to six months in prison and up to $12,000 in fines.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern denied that setting up a vaccine pass complaints system for the public encouraged a culture of dobbing each other in. 

"No, no, not at all. But, of course, if someone has a concern, we don't want them necessarily escalating those things at a higher level than they need to. So it's just thinking about if people want a bit of clarity on how do they raise a concern like that, just making sure we've got a single point for them.

"I don't think it's fair to say that we have evidence of this being a widespread issue. However, of course, we have the ability through the verifier app to make sure that the pass that someone has is a legitimate pass. 

"We also have enough details on the pass itself to also check that someone is who they claim to be by using photo ID, and the fact that you may not know at any given venue which will be used is a way that we can keep those checks and balances."

Under the new traffic light system, gathering limits are determined by vaccination status and the level at which a region is set, depending on vaccination rates and the number of COVID-19 cases. 

Auckland is currently at the most restrictive 'red' level, meaning hospitality venues are limited to 100 vaccinated people, while hospitality businesses that choose not to check vaccine passes must remain contactless. 

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood.
Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Government will on Monday review the traffic light settings, and Ardern said it's possible Auckland could shift to the less restrictive 'orange' level where gathering limits are lifted for vaccinated people - but it's not looking too likely. 

"I do place a lot of weight on the public health advice, and, of course, we will be cautious, as we have been to date. I will wait, though, with an open mind on the advice that we receive."

From December 15, Aucklanders will be able to leave the city as long as they are vaccinated or can provide evidence of a negative test result within 72 hours. 

Ardern said Aucklanders are not encouraged to stay home this summer. 

"We have built our arrangements: our COVID protection framework, the requirements of all Aucklanders - those are the protections we've put in place so that we can enable safe movement. So we are not asking people to stay home."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said to only stay home if you're sick. 

"It's not about travel per se; it's about what people do if they either have symptoms or have been a contact or are a case. That's where we need to restrict movement and that is no different from right through the pandemic."