Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in the Waikato region today; visiting a local health clinic, meeting with business leaders and also lending a hand at a sod-turning ceremony for a new theatre.

The PM will first head to Hamilton East before attending the sod-turning event for the Waikato Regional Theatre – tipped to be a world-class theatre catering to up to 1300 people.

The project is expected to provide more local jobs and create a boost for local tourism thanks to a $12 million investment from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

Her visit comes a day after confirmation the country will officially move into the new traffic light system on Friday and will effectively see more restrictions eased back, despite still being somewhat strict.

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in the Waikato region today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Health Minister Andrew Little said some areas moving into the red light setting had lower vaccination numbers and were places where they expected people to travel to in numbers during the summer.

Restrictions therefore needed to be in place to stop overcrowding, he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.

Little said the vaccination numbers in Tairāwhiti needed to go up, especially for Māori.

“There’s a lot of concern in the community at the moment about Rhythm and Vines, anyway, because people are terrified of a whole horde of people – a lot of them from Auckland – coming down and crowding out a reasonably confined space.”

The health system was coping at the moment and would continue to cope, he said.

Even moving to the orange traffic light, only vaccinated people would be able to attend the event.

Little said the organisers knew the conditions and it was their call whether to cancel it.

On ordinary members of the public starting to gather again, Little said if you were hosting a get-together and you trusted that the people were vaccinated, then that would be enough.

“If these are people you know – family members, close friends – you trust them when they tell you they’ve been vaccinated, you accept that then that’s going to be acceptable.”

Anyone else, you should be scanning their vaccine pass.

If there was an outbreak and it was traced back to your party then questions would be asked and there could be an infringement if you’ve breached that rule.

He said it “feels a bit weird”, but it was about ensuring everybody was safe from infection, he said.

When asked if people could hug at a bar on Friday when Auckland moved to the red traffic light, Little said people should use their judgement and if it was someone you had nor seen for a long time then it might be worth still keeping your distance and doing a “virtual hug”.

“There are ways of showing affection to people who you like and haven’t seen for a while that doesn’t involve close contact.”

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

New Zealand will officially move into its new traffic light system response to Covid on Friday. Photo / Dean Purcell

“This thing is still around and there will be some people who will not want to be hugged, they just want to take care of themselves too and they just don’t know where people have been.”

Sharing a taxi with other people was okay if you were wearing masks and spaced.

Little said they needed to know more about the new Covid strain, Omicron, and the level of severity of illness it caused.

Response to new variant Omicron

New Zealand was not due to open its borders until mid-January to Kiwis in Australia, so they would just keep an eye on what’s happening in the rest of the world for now.

The World Health Organisation’s Dr Margaret Harris said they wanted to learn more about Omicron, where it was and to improve the testing and contact tracing, as there was not enough information to draw any conclusions about its severity yet.

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

Auckland will see more restrictions ease on Friday. Photo / Michael Craig

Some countries in Europe had stopped doing all the testing and tracing because for some reason there seemed to be a belief that this was somehow beaten, but they needed countries to keep doing it.

She told Three’s AM Show it was exhausting and people had put in a lot of effort to try and prevent the spread and we had to keep on doing that.

Part of the research they are carrying out is whether or not people infected with this new strain had been vaccinated or not.

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Waikato as regions prepare for traffic light system

If we do not address the inequity of vaccines, this might be a dress rehearsal, she said.

As humanity as encroached on mother nature, it was clear the way we were interacting negatively with the rest of the biosphere was creating more and more opportunities for viruses to harm us, she said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Newstalk ZB that community sport will go ahead under the orange level if there is vaccine certificates.

As to how that would happen, that was up to the organisers. But the guidance says “as is practical”.

It would be up to the organisers to check the vaccine passports, but it was accepted there could be a lot of people there and some may choose not to check everyone.

Asked about people being put off due to the seven days isolation, Robertson said they would keep reviewing the isolation.

The red level was like alert level 2 and orange was like pre-Covid but with mask wearing, he said.

Green was even better and people would be able to live their lives “a lot more normally”.

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