Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Epidemiologist says vaccination the future to living with the virus

As the country prepares to enter the new traffic light system, epidemiologist Michael Baker said it sends the message that vaccination is the way forward.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today confirmed the country would move to the new Covid-19 Protection Framework from 11.59pm on Thursday, doing away with the alert level settings that have become part of daily life since March last year.

The new framework is based around high vaccination rates enabling living with Covid-19 in the community, with three levels of restrictions based on the risk posed – green, orange and red.

Moving straight to red will be Northland, Auckland, Taupō and Rotorua Lakes Districts, Kawerau, Whakatane, Ōpōtiki District, Gisborne District, Wairoa District, Rangitikei, Whanganui and Ruapehu District.

Auckland, as centre of the current outbreak, had been signalled as going to red.

But Baker believes the country will never return to pre-pandemic times.

“We just have to change our way of operating, get vaccinated, wear masks indoors and maintain some distancing.”

Ardern said festival organisers in areas under the red regime will have to decide whether to go ahead or not.

“Ultimately, I can’t make a commercial decision.”

Major summer festivals in the red setting include Rhythm’n’Vines.

With music festivals and large gatherings just around the corner, Baker said they posed issues especially in areas that will be placed into the red zone.

“I don’t think the Government wanted to have those festivals in that uncertain position but that’s the way it has happened,” he said.

Epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig believes the key issue with the traffic light system is that “it’s designed around incentivising New Zealanders to get vaccinated”.

“It’s significantly underpowered for meaningful prevention of Covid-19 outbreaks.

“That’s a major and concerning gap in our pandemic response just now as we await further information on the Omicron variant,” she said.

Kvalsvig said a system that centred on protecting health and wellbeing is needed.

“Our Covid response system should protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated, including children, and it should be explicitly designed to be equitable and to uphold Te Tiriti.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says the “Government is taking a district-by-district approach” to the new system.

“Parts of the North Island that are battling active outbreaks or have low vaccination rates will start at red.

“This will mean things will continue to feel similar to level 2 for people who are fully vaccinated, but life will be more restricted for unvaccinated people.”

While areas in orange generally have reasonable vaccination rates and no community cases, Plank said Waikato is the exception.

“In moving to the new system we must not lose sight of the fact that we still have big gaps in our vaccine coverage,” he said.

“The virus will find and exploit these gaps so we must redouble our efforts to fill them.”

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