What will the traffic light system mean for the unvaccinated?

On 3 December, New Zealand will move into the traffic light system – the next stage of our country’s response to Covid-19 (replacing our current alert levels). The aim is to provide more freedom for kiwis – a strategy welcomed by most kiwis in the lead up to summer, not least the 1.6 million Aucklanders who have spent already spent 100 days in lockdown since the latest outbreak in August.

This is how Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained the three-tier system in October:

“If you want to be guaranteed that no matter the setting that we are in, that you can go to bars, restaurants and close-proximity businesses like a hairdresser, then you will need to be vaccinated”.[1]

Basically, this means if you’re double vaccinated, life will return to almost normal. Read more about how the traffic light system will work.  

So, where does that leave people who are unvaccinated?

There are fears from some that the new traffic light system will create division between those who are fully vaccinated and those who aren’t. While experts agree that vaccination is our best chance against protecting all kiwis against Covid-19, there is recognition across the board that individuals’ rights to not be vaccinated must be upheld.

It’s a tricky balance to strike: the Government must protect the rights of people to choose not to be vaccinated while also recognising the rights of those who are vaccinated to remain safe in the workplace, at school and in public spaces. It’s obviously a contentious issue and not one that is likely to be ‘solved’ in the short term.

The Government has urgently passed legislation that will mandate the vaccination regime ahead of the traffic light system starting on 3 December – a process that would normally take months but is instead taking days.  And while the general consensus is that such a mandate is necessary, the fact it is being rushed through without the time to properly scrutinise it has many advocates up in arms.  

“Balances have to be struck between human rights. This complex but essential exercise comes into sharp focus during a pandemic where measures that protect the rights to health and life must be balanced against other rights, such as the right to work and a decent standard of living,” says Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt[2].

Can unvaccinated people still access essential services?

The reality is that life will be different for those who have opted not to receive the jab (for those who are unable to receive it due to medical reasons, medical exemptions will allow them to get their My Vaccine Pass).

One key point to remember, however, is that those who remain unvaccinated will still be able to access essential services – including healthcare services, supermarkets and petrol stations.

When it comes to healthcare, for example, The Ministry of Health has made it very clear that “access to health care is a fundamental right” and that vaccination status will not impact on anyone’s ability to receive equitable care. In a statement made last week, the Ministry of Health stated:

  1. “An individual seeking healthcare cannot be refused care because of their beliefs. In this case, an individual who believes that a vaccine is harmful cannot be refused care for that belief.”
  2. A practitioner’s personal beliefs should not influence that practitioner’s duty to of care for any individual. In this case a practitioner must not allow their opinion of an individual who refuses to be vaccinated to influence the care they offer that individual. [3]

So, whatever your vaccine status is, you’ll always be able to access essential services. It’s just other day-to-day things – such as eating in a restaurant, heading to the cinema or going to a public event – that people who are unvaccinated will be restricted from doing.

Read more about the traffic light system at Unite against Covid-19 website


[1] Explained: What the traffic light system is and how it works, 23 November 2021, RNZ Accessed at https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/456303/explained-what-the-traffic-light-system-is-and-how-it-works

[2] Covid-19: Critics condemn urgent passing of ‘traffic light’ law without usual scrutiny, 23 November 2021, Stuff, Accessed at https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/127078227/covid19-critics-condemn-urgent-passing-of-traffic-light-law-without-usual-scrutiny?fbclid=IwAR3qzuE54qhECAesKYmUgfsb1xlj5r2z0P6RMNxT3MEfvGkPn2jiokmVSFQ

[3] Ministry of Health position statement on the management of unvaccinated individuals in healthcare settings, 19 November 2021, Accessed at https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/pages/ministry_of_health_position_statement_on_the_management_of_unvaccinated_individuals_in_healthcare_settings.pdf

Photo by Darius Krause from Pexels

About Mason Head

Mason Head
Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet

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