A barber fined $48,000 for not complying with vaccine mandates is refusing to pay as many Covid restrictions are lifted.
Ants Haines, the owner of My Barber on Rotorua's Hinemoa St, says it has been a tough year since he started refusing to follow vaccine pass rules at his business.
"I've felt like I'm the virus," he told the Rotorua Daily Post.
His comments come after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced the Government would no longer require vaccine passes from 11.59pm on April 4 when it was projected the country would pass its Omicron peak.
From that same date, vaccination mandates for the education sector, New Zealand Defence Force and police workers would also no longer apply. Rules have also changed for crowd limits and scanning QR codes.
Haines said he believed he attracted WorkSafe attention because he was vocal about his objection to the mandates.
He initially thought he was fined $64,000 - but has since realised he was reading reminder notices. He said he didn't take much notice of the pieces of paper because he never intended to pay.
"It shouldn't be any fines."
WorkSafe said Haines has been fined on three separate occasions in January, February and March. Each time he was issued with two fines - $12,000 for failing to check customers had vaccine passes and $4000 for failing to display a vaccine pass sign.
Instead, Haines made his own sign that said: "No vaccine pass required".
WorkSafe said anyone fined under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Protection Framework) Order 2021 or Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 at the time it was in place would need to pay the fee or request a hearing.
Haines said he did not intend to pay the fines and was prepared to go to court.
When the first lockdown happened, Haines said he was happy to comply but, in his opinion, the Government went too far by imposing mandates on people's livelihoods.
He said it caused restrictions, discrimination and segregation that were not necessary.
Haines, who is not vaccinated, believed people had the right to choose whether they were vaccinated.
He said he had lost a lot of business because of people's fears.
Haines said he could not listen to the Prime Minister's announcement because "I just can't watch her".
In his view: "I'm pleased they've dropped the mandates, but now we need to drop her."
One Rotorua resident who decided not to be vaccinated spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post on condition of anonymity.
She said in her view the Prime Minister's announcement was clearly "a political response to a health issue".
"The mandates and passes were absolutely a waste of time."
She said she had taken her young children out of swimming lessons due to the "nonsensical" mandates and her children's school had lost one teacher and a number of people from the PTA.
"Friends who have known us for many years have ostracised us for making different decisions for our family's health."
The changes include QR codes and scanning for contact tracing no longer being required from 11.59pm tomorrow night.
New Zealand remains in the red setting of the Covid-19 system, with some changes on gathering limits. Hospitality gathering limits for indoor events and venues have been increased to 200 people. All outdoor gathering limits have been removed.
Mask wearing would still be required except when outdoors.
The setting will next be reviewed by the Government on April 4.
Natasha Hall, general manager of event planning company Plenty Group, said the increase in indoor gathering limits did not affect Eastwood Cafe.
But the scrapping of outdoor gathering limits was "fantastic" news for the company's catering arm.
"We'll have a few happy brides, I imagine."
Vaccine mandates remained in place for the health and aged care sectors, Corrections, border and MIQ workers.
Lakes DHB Covid-19 incident controller Gary Lees said the announcement had little impact on the DHB's operations.
"There are still vulnerable groups in our Lakes DHB communities and lower vaccination rates for Māori in particular.
"There will likely be further outbreaks of Omicron, seasonal flu, and the potential for the emergence of a new variant of concern. Keeping some restrictions in place helps us minimise this current outbreak and protect against future ones."
Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams said the council would need to take time to review its vaccine policies and determine if change was needed.
"Our policies are driven by our responsibilities for the health and safety of our staff."
Te Arawa Covid-19 Hub kaumatua Monty Morrison said the decision reflected how New Zealand's Covid-19 environment was changing.
"Having said that, we are still very much in the middle of the Omicron wave and vaccination is still our most important defence against the virus."
Morrison said the hub would continue to actively encourage vaccinations such as at this weekend's vaccination event in Linton.
"It is too early to say what other changes we might make or need to make."
Education, police and defence forces were no longer required to comply with vaccine mandates from April.
Sunset Primary School principal Eden Chapman was "really pleased" unvaccinated teachers would be able to return to the profession in April.
He said the school lost "some good staff" to the mandate last year.
"There are an awful lot of good people who for whatever reason didn't want to get vaccinated."
Rotorua Girls' High School principal Sarah Davis said she was waiting on advice from the Ministry of Education to hear exactly how the announcement would impact the school.
"We can only operate on the advice that the ministry gives us on what that means in terms of staffing at the school."
NZEI president Liam Rutherford said anxiety around removing the vaccine mandates was inevitable.
"This needs to be acknowledged while schools and services work to ensure their health and safety processes prioritise people's wellbeing."
PPTA Te Wehengarua president Melanie Webber said the organisation had supported the mandates as the "best means" of keeping communities safe.
Webber said the mandates had been extremely difficult for the relatively small number of secondary teachers who chose not to be vaccinated.
"With teacher shortages continuing in secondary, it is likely that many of these teachers will be able to find new jobs in education now that they are able to return."
Grey Power Rotorua acting president Gerald Hanson said the changes "needed to be made".
"Things were kind of grating on people."
Hanson said some people in the Grey Power community would be nervous about the changes.
"They'll be nervous until we get the big tick that everything's over."
Cancer Society of New Zealand co-medical director and oncologist Kate Gregory said her immune-compromised patients felt more vulnerable to the virus.
"The current requirement for people to show vaccine passes gives immune-compromised people a level of reassurance."
Gregory was concerned that people with these conditions could start to socially isolate themselves out of fear.
Gathering limits for outdoor events have also been removed.
Rotorua Speedway secretary Sonja Hickey said it was good to have certainty in planning for next year's season.
Hickey thought people would still be cautious about attending events but fewer restrictions would make it easier for the Speedway because vaccine pass requirements caused "a lot of work".
"It's great, it's been hard work replacing and rescheduling with all the new rules."
Additional reporting by Sandra Conchie, Laura Smith and Emma Houpt