COVID-19: New Zealand's traffic light system rules change overnight

There's been a significant shift in New Zealand's COVID-19 settings overnight, with gathering limits doubled (and in some cases removed altogether) and QR code scanning requirements removed.

At 11:59pm on Friday, the Government's recently-announced changes to the traffic light system came into effect. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week said this "simplified" framework was aimed at targeting restrictions "at those activities that reduce transmission the most".

That means ditching outdoor gathering limits and not requiring masks to be worn at outside events. If by chance there is nice weather this weekend, that means outdoor sporting events and concerts are back on.

Indoors there are still restrictions, such as the need to be seated and separated at hospitality venues, but gathering limits have jumped from 100 to 200. That's in acknowledgement of the fact that transmission has been "relatively low" at hospitality sites but there is still some risk.

Ardern said on Wednesday that the increase won't have any "material impact" on the health system or hospitalisations. That echoes comments from Health Minister Andrew Little this week when he said modelling showed lifting restrictions wouldn't lead to an increase in people being hospitalised. 

Importantly, vaccine passes still need to be used at these events. They aren't being scrapped until 11:59pm on April 4. If an event doesn't want to use the passes then gathering limits don't change.

You won't need to scan in or write down your contact details if you enter a shop or go to a gathering. The Government has removed those requirements and businesses no longer need to display QR codes or provide a means of record-keeping. 

When New Zealand eventually moves to the orange level - the traffic lights will be reviewed on April 4 - all gathering limits will be removed. Masks will still be required indoors. 

Ardern said the Government was able to loosen the rules due to high vaccination rates and because case numbers are expected to begin declining in the coming weeks. By April 4, New Zealand should be on the other side of the Omicron peak, she said. 

"The evidence shows we are coming off the Omicron peak with cases in Auckland having already declined significantly, and a decline expected nationally by early April," Ardern said.

"To date we’ve had more than 500,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and expert modellers say there have probably been 1.7 million actual infections. That figure, coupled with 95 percent of New Zealanders being fully vaccinated, means we now have a high level of collective immunity."