Orange traffic light: Now not the time to ease COVID-19 restrictions, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says

The Green Party says now is not the time to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

New Zealand traffic light settings changed to orange overnight, meaning limits on indoor gatherings have been dropped along with the need to remain seated and distance.

Mask-wearing has also become voluntary in schools and the Greens are concerned New Zealand's youngest were being put at risk.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson told AM Early restrictions easing will have an impact on immunocompromised and disabled people as well as the elderly, young children, Māori and Pasifika.

"We are quite concerned and we are hearing from a broad range of public health officials, for example, who are particularly concerned about losing masks in schools."

Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker said at the weekend masks must remain compulsory in schools if New Zealand moved to the orange traffic light setting.  Davidson said the Greens wanted to see high-quality masks continued to be used in schools.

"We know that the Government has decided to move the goalposts but the Greens are concentrated on focusing on the exact protections and that we can improve - like high-quality masks and ventilation [in schools] and equitable vaccine rates."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who's also Education Minister, on Wednesday was not even sure about his own mask rules - but said they were too difficult to enforce in schools.

He said it had proven to be "one of the most challenging COVID-19 requirements".

Davidson said free and high-quality masks should be available in all schools.

The Greens would listen to "the range of public health and epidemiologists that are clearly saying it's too soon" to ease restrictions, she said.

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub.

"Secondly, we want to see those vaccination rates become more equitable… to continue to roll out vaccinations directly in schools would help get that 5-11-year-old rate [up].

"We know parents, families are concerned - we think that a bit more work would actually allay those valid concerns."

Hipkins on Wednesday cited a reduction in COVID hospitlisations and cases as justification for easing restrictions.

Hospitalisations were trending down with more than 100 fewer people, on average, in hospitals across the country now than when the Government last reviewed the settings, he said.