The mayor of one of New Zealand's least vaccinated towns has backed a council decision not to require vaccine passes at its pool, libraries, and other public facilities - for now.
A post on the Kawerau District Council website said vaccine passes would not be required at council offices and other facilities, leading at least one health expert to express disappointment - saying the town risks losing a key tool in the fight against Covid-19.
Kawerau entered the red traffic light setting on Friday, together with other districts that have the country's lowest vaccination rates. By late last week, only 69.3 per cent of residents in the small Bay of Plenty town had been fully vaccinated.
"The traffic light system is evolving and we have to work out what is the best thing to do for us," Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell told the Herald.
Campbell said it was a council-level decision by chief executive Russell George and councillors are yet to meet on it.
"Mr George is doing the right thing, we stand by him 100 per cent at this point in time.
"It's a bit of a circus out there, to be honest. Nobody has made a definitive decision about what should be done and what shouldn't be done (about the vaccine pass)."
Council CEO Russell George said they are not requiring proof of vaccination at public facilities while they assess the risk factors and what is needed to implement vaccine pass checks.
"Someone will have to be at the front door checking passes," he said.
"This is a difficult decision for council so we want to make sure we make the right decision. [The Government and Health Ministry] haven't made it mandatory so we have to carry out a proper assessment."
While the post on the website said vaccine passes will not be required at council offices and facilities like the pool and library, it added "this may change".
Visitor numbers at the pool and library are limited to 100 and 50 respectively. Scanning or signing in and face masks are mandatory.
Councils around the country are applying the new traffic light system rules differently.
Kawerau joins Upper Hutt, Waitaki and New Plymouth councils in not requiring vaccine passes to use all or some of their services at the moment, while Auckland and most councils in the Wellington region require proof of vaccination at their facilities.
Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy had told the Herald earlier that the decision was about "organising life again".
"The region has very high vaccination rates – about 98 per cent first dose and 92 per cent double - so this is about getting people back, we're trying not to stay in that siege mentality and get back to normal as soon as possible," Guppy said.
University of Otago Professor Michael Baker says it is disappointing not all government agencies are behind the vaccine pass because the country then loses what he calls the "nudge" factor.
"The problem is you're missing one of the big benefits of [the vaccine pass] which is to remind people that you need to be vaccinated to participate in society fully."
Physical distancing and the consistent use of face masks can "go a long way" to reduce the risk of transmission, he said, but there is a catch.
"Not everyone is compliant with rules around mask use," he said. "We are losing one of our key tools for protecting people in those facilities from infection."