Northland businesses are calling for more clarity around the impending Covid traffic light system as they gear up to welcome fully vaccinated locals and visitors in the busy few weeks ahead.
My Vaccine Pass became available to the public from November 17 and New Zealand will move into the Covid-19 Protection Framework, commonly known as the traffic light system, from December 3.
At 11.59pm on December 2, all of New Zealand will move to the framework. Auckland will move to Red. Settings for the rest of New Zealand will be announced on Monday.
From December 15, people travelling out of Auckland will need to be fully vaccinated, or have a negative test 72 hours prior to departure, to visit other parts of the country.
This requirement will remain in place until January 17, 2022.
Northland is likely to move to Red given its low vaccination rate. Under Red, up to 100 people will be allowed inside hospitality premises and other gatherings like places of worship, weddings, funeral, and gyms.
All attendees will be required to have the vaccine passport.
Businesses that don't require proof of vaccine will have to operate on a "contactless basis" and gatherings will be limited to 25 people only.
Similar arrangements will be in place under Orange, except gatherings of 50 people will be allowed without proof of vaccine.
There will be no limit on numbers with proof of vaccine under Orange and Green.
Without a vaccine pass, up to 100 people will be allowed to gather together under Green.
Teresa McInerney, owner of Villa Hairdressing on Bank St in Whangārei, estimates she will lose about 10 per cent of her clients who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons and do not yet have an exemption.
She said the traffic light system should give hairdressers an opportunity to see a few of their unvaccinated clients who were not anti-vax perhaps on a non-working day.
"Where I found the traffic light system confusing a little bit is the point of when can we do non-vaccinated people and as far as I can tell, it looks like when we're in Green we can welcome clients that aren't vaccinated back in and it looks like particularly in Northland, a long way off.
"For us being mandated, all rights from us has been taken away. We're now becoming police officers as well at our front door, and that's really, really hard.
"You feel people still do have a choice and it is quite hard for people who, for whatever reasons, aren't having the jab are feeling so excluded, they can't go anywhere, and it's really hard when you've been doing clients for 20 years," McInerney said.
She said her staff would have to phone every booked client leading into the busy festive season to make sure they were vaccinated rather than having that conversation as they arrived for their appointment.
"What will start to worry a lot of hairdressers is now it's opening up is an opportunity for a lot of home hairdressers to be doing the unvaccinated."
Fat Camel restaurant co-owner Shlomo Elisar said he had been speaking to many different people and organisations in order to understand the dos and don'ts under the traffic light system.
"The messages we are getting from the Government are very confusing but hopefully things become clearer next week. It's also unclear whether I can employ unvaccinated staff," he said.
Elisar said his restaurant did not have 100 seats so the requirement for a maximum of that many people under Red did not apply but there were aspects of the vaccine passport in particular that were not clear.
"Do people have to show their vaccine passport only or just scan it? We can't afford to employ someone just to check the vaccine passport so at the end of the day, people need to be responsible themselves."
Hospitality NZ Northland representative John Maurice, of Kaikohe's Bank Bar, said he wouldn't prepare for the traffic light system until closer to time because the rules kept changing.
"I am not overly familiar with the traffic light system but what we do know is things keep changing. Yesterday [Wednesday], the Prime Minister said we don't have to scan the vaccination passport, just sight it.
"I am frustrated, just as everyone else. I mean, what legal authority do businesses have to ask people for their ID? We're not the police. The Government has rushed legislation through the House and now we are in a situation where things are unclear," he said.
NorthChamber chief executive Stephen Smith said once businesses went through the relevant protocols spelt out by the Government, the traffic light system became crystal clear.
"If your staff are fully vaxxed, then every customer that comes in needs to have a vaccine passport. If they are not vaxxed, then the business is not compliant with the traffic light system and has to operate contactless."
However, Smith said the system was still a bit messy and he hoped things would become clearer closer to the time of it being introduced and once businesses got used to it.
Lloyd Rooney of the Jetson Group that owns The Cove, Quay, Loco, No 8 in Whangarei and The Dune in Mangawhai, questioned the rationale behind the staggered deadline for workers in the hospitality sector to be fully vaccinated before the traffic light system came into effect.
"The introduction of the traffic light system, I was led to believe, would also coincide with the staff on the premises also all being vaccinated. That now isn't the case. They have to have their first jab by December third and second by January 17. How does that work?
"We can only accept customers who are double vaccinated but we have staff working here who aren't. I had previously come to an agreement with all the staff who were unvaccinated who had made it known to me they weren't going to get vaccinated that we'd be terminating their employment within seven days of the introduction of the traffic light system.
"It now appears there's actually no law in place for that to happen. There's no law in Parliament yet that would allow a company like mine to move forward with its staffing arrangements under the traffic light system. Nothing has been mandated."
Five out of 140 staff he employs across five restaurants are unvaccinated.
Last month, Employment Relations Minister Michael Wood told Parliament's education and workforce select committee employers could not sack existing staff who refused to be vaccinated.
This was slightly different for people who worked on the Government's Covid-19 response at the border. These employees must be vaccinated as they are covered by a health order.
Rooney has downloaded an app that scans vaccination passports and shows the person's name, date of birth, and a green tick to indicate he or she is fully vaccinated.
However, he admitted it would be difficult to prove the passport belonged to the person who carried it if people carried someone else's vaccine passport as it would not have a photo ID.
Rooney feels the legislation around the traffic light system, including protocols around the actual scanning of vaccine passports, should have been put in place a long time ago.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's comment people could have their vaccine passport scanned as well as just show it added to the confusion, he said.
Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said the verifier app was something businesses have specifically asked for, and it was likely a majority would use it as the best way to comply with their legal obligations and to keep customers safe.
"While not compulsory at the moment, we will consider if there's a need to go further if we see abuse of the system. At this point, we just want to get the system up and running but we will be monitoring the rollout.
"Ultimately this is a tool to stop the spread of Covid-19 so businesses can operate safely and protect both staff and customers so we do encourage them to use it," Hipkins said.