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Kiwis will keep lockdowns until 90 per cent vaccinated


New Zealand is shooting for the stars, setting a 90 per cent vaccination target before shifting away from widespread lockdowns to control COVID-19.

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The strategy switch-up comes as Auckland grapples with a Delta outbreak that has brought New Zealand’s worst daily case counts and hospitalisations of the pandemic.

On Friday, health officials reported a new high of 129 community cases, including 120 in Auckland and nine in the Waikato.

Aucklanders – who have spent almost 10 weeks in lockdown – will be the first movers to a new traffic light style system.

Auckland’s 1.7 million residents will move from alert level three to “code red” on a new traffic light system when 90 per cent of Aucklanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says NZ’s biggest city – which is currently 89 per cent partially vaccinated – could shift in early December.

“At current rates, Auckland would move absolutely before Christmas,” Ardern said.

“This is within Auckland’s grasp.”

On this timetable, Auckland would notch 100 days under stay-at-home orders.

NZ currently operates under an alert level system but will soon shift to the traffic light system, badged as the “COVID-19 Protection Framework”.

Ardern said Kiwis would notice three major differences under the framework which will see all parts of the country graded at either green, orange or red.

The first is the use of vaccine certificates, which will allow vaccinated Kiwis to return to a largely normal life, while restricting unvaccinated to the bare necessities.

The second is that businesses will be able to operate at any colour.

The third is the abandonment of nationwide lockdowns in favour of “highly targeted and very localised” restrictions if need be.

“If you want summer, if you want to go to bars and restaurants, get vaccinated,” Ms Ardern said.

“If you want to get a haircut, get vaccinated.

“If you want to go to a concert or a festival … if you want to go to a gym, or a sports events, get vaccinated.”

For the entire country to shift to the traffic light system, all of New Zealand’s 20 health regions (known as DHBs) must also hit 90 per cent.

“We’re all in this together. We need to reach these high rates together so we can protect each other,” Ms Ardern said.

Nationwide vaccine rates stand at 83 per cent partially vaccinated and 67 per cent double-dosed.

The surprise absence from Friday’s announcement was the lack of a dedicated Maori vaccine target.

Maori are particularly vulnerable to worse health outcomes, and have been overrepresented in the Delta outbreak.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield previously signaled his desire for additional benchmarks – for Maori, for Pacific communities, the elderly and isolated communities – of “90 per cent and above” alongisde the a general vaccine target.

However, Ardern said the adoption of the traffic light system was based on his advice.

Instead, the government will spend $NZ120 million ($A115 million) to get Maori vaccinated, and hopes the use of the 20 health regions will give good nationwide coverage.

The government will also up business support to around $NZ470 million ($A451 million) a week, and extend eligibility for hardship grants to low-wage Kiwis.

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