Rotorua's mayor says the city needs to rapidly lift lagging vaccination rates to take advantage of freedoms offered under a new traffic light system for managing Covid-19 outbreaks.
The Lakes District Health Board area has the lowest full vaccination rate in New Zealand, but the DHB says it has the capacity to lift this quickly if people get on board.
Locals have called the new system "courageous" and a step towards certainty, but others are concerned about the impact on businesses of having to police customers' vaccination status.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced the country would move into the new traffic light system when each district health board has 90 per cent of its population with both doses of the vaccine.
In the Lakes area, 60 per cent of eligible people have had both jabs, the same rate as Taranaki and Tairāwhiti. About 78 per cent in the Lakes have had the first dose.
The Lakes DHB had an eligible population of 94,419 with 37,681 not yet fully vaccinated.
The new system has three stages - red, orange and green - all of which allow greater freedoms than the current alert level system.
Ardern said vaccination certificates would allow businesses to be able to open and operate at any level.
"If you want to be guaranteed that no matter the setting we are in, that you can go to bars, restaurants and close-proximity businesses like a hairdresser, then you will need to be vaccinated."
A new $120 million fund has also been established to help lift Māori vaccination rates.
Lakes DHB chief operating officer Alan Wilson said it was concerned low vaccination rates will result in ongoing restrictions and he highly recommended everyone who is able be vaccinated.
"There are many clinics and events, and lots of providers, so we could hit the targets quickly - but we need the people to come on board."
Wilson said it was working with high schools and reaching out to the suburbs and communities with the lowest uptake to make it even easier to get the vaccine.
Drive-throughs on Clayton Rd would continue on Sundays and Mondays for the next few months, and there were lots of provider clinics and DHB clinics, he said.
"We are going to be going out to a lot more businesses ... It's never been easier nor more urgent to get vaccination with Covid being on our border."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said being vaccinated was the way out of the current situation, with the new system reliant on high vaccination rates across the country.
"We need to get our vaccination rates up – and quickly – so we can move to the new system to provide some certainty for our businesses and to protect our community, especially those who are particularly vulnerable," she said.
"We owe it to all of New Zealand to play our part and Rotorua has a way to go to get to 90 per cent, so it's good to also see some funding allocated to initiatives to help get vaccination rates up."
Rotorua Business Chamber chief executive Bryce Heard said the framework was a "big step in the right direction".
"We have had to deal with a lot of uncertainty for a very long time ... This announcement appears to be giving us a step towards certainty.
"This certainly gives incentives for people to get vaccinated and stop mucking around. I believe more people will get vaccinated."
Heard said he believed the majority of the business community would welcome the initiative and applauded the Government for "showing courage" in doing so.
"Some groups won't like it. But this sends a clear message to everyone what is expected and adds another layer of protection for businesses and their customers."
Rotorua Economic Development chief executive Andrew Wilson said the framework "provides some clarity around how businesses can operate with Delta in the community and reinforces the need for us to lift vaccination rates".
Carl Redshaw, who owns Peros Hairtek salons in Tauranga and Rotorua, said he wasn't against the initiative - but said it should not be left up to business owners to have to police people's vaccination status and people needed to take personal responsibility.
"As a business owner, particularly in Rotorua, we're already having to deal with some very angry people and I think they only going to get even angrier having to show vaccination passports to get served.
"I'm very concerned about my staff having to refuse service to anyone with no vaccination passport and what their reaction will be ... "
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the easing of restrictions in line with vaccination rates was a "welcome relief" for hospitality businesses.
Bidois said the new framework would allow businesses to "start planning with some certainty".
"There will no doubt be some finer points of the framework to go through to understand their practical application and we look forward to doing that with Government in the days and weeks ahead."
One Love festival director Glenn Meikle, of Reggae Love Ltd, felt positive about the Government's announcement and was in the process of working through the information to put a plan in place.
"It's great that we know where we are at now. And we can try and just meet these targets so we can get on with summer."
Rotorua Girls' High principal Sarah Davies said it sent a clear message to the whole community what is expected and why getting vaccination rates up as quickly as possible was so important.
Davies said she would continue to work closely with the DHB, Te Arawa and other Covid-19 response officials to get as many of the students as possible fully vaccinated.
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh felt it was a "well-considered" and well- communicated system.
"It will allow the country to open up including educating young people but lets us know as a community when the light turns red the risks are unacceptable."
Walsh said it would ultimately depend on high vaccination rates, "good" contact tracing and taking health precautions.
"The teaching profession, parents and indeed students themselves know the value of education and increasingly will do what it takes to get back to school, including following the 'traffic light' system."