A Whanganui business adviser says it's "almost guaranteed" that Whanganui will be in the red light setting of the new Covid-19 Protection Framework.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday the whole of New Zealand will move into the traffic light framework at 11.59pm on December 2.
Venter & Hull Chartered Accountants director Darren Hull said all indications were that Whanganui would move straight into the red-light category as the region sat below the 90 per cent vaccination rate.
Currently, of all New Zealand's 20 district health boards, Whanganui DHB has the third-lowest percentage of its population with at least one dose. Currently, 85 per cent of the eligible DHB population of 57,247 has received at least one dose.
Hull said the Government was aware of the potential fallout it may face if it opened up regions that were not at the 90 per cent mark and there were any outbreaks that impacted those communities.
"They are probably a little unsure what will happen when we open up. I suspect they are taking a more cautious, initial approach and want to see what happens with case numbers once the new framework is in place.
"When there is a bit more certainty around the impact, I'm assuming they will reassess levels at that stage, as opposed to going into orange or green and seeing greater community transmission than they thought and have to go backwards."
If Whanganui was to be at 'red', close contact businesses that are not a vaccinated business will not be allowed to open.
This includes gyms, barbers and hairdressers, while hospitality businesses could be contactless only. More clarity around close contact businesses is expected in the coming days.
"If you are being critical, the quick pace of change and the lack of forward communication, combined with some quite big ramifications for some businesses, is not the best combination, said Hull. "The more time you have, the more time businesses have to plan.
"This has come through quite quickly, with not a great understanding of what the definitions of this framework are. I'm sure that is going to cause some issues once it comes into place."
Hull said one big issue the Government needed to clarify was around employers' rights in deciding whether or not it to be a vaccinated business and ensuring they had the requisite legal support in the event that they needed to let staff go due to their vaccination status.
While being a vaccinated workplace gives businesses far greater freedoms than being an unvaccinated one, it will still come with some potentially uncomfortable conversations.
Hull said issues around staff departures, how to communicate with unvaccinated customers who can no longer use their business, policing vaccine passports and training staff on how to handle unhappy customers were among the many issues some businesses would have to deal with.
"There are all sorts of issues that will arise, absolutely, so make sure you start planning and working through the issues now."
Whanganui & Partners business strategic lead Tim Easton said all businesses needed to review the Covid-19 Protection Framework and develop processes for operating at each colour.
"Their immediate focus should be on operating at red and orange from December 3, anticipating Whanganui is likely to be at one of these colours initially.
"Many of the measures at each colour remain the same as the alert levels, such as maintaining good hygiene, record-keeping and scanning, using masks, social distancing, adhering to capacity limits, and contactless operation. Local business operators are already confidently using these measures."
The key change was adopting vaccine certificates. Easton said any businesses to which vaccine certificate requirements would apply needed to make a decision on whether they would use the certificates.
All other businesses would need to conduct a health and safety assessment on each role in their organisation to determine the associated Covid-19 risks. At-risk roles can require vaccination.
These businesses could also make a decision on whether they would limit their business only to vaccinated people, and could use vaccine certificates to monitor this.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said as yet he had no indication that Whanganui would be placed into the red level, but understood it would be a possibility.
"That would be disappointing but, then again, the Government has been pretty clear about vaccination rates being a clear indicator of whether a community goes into red, orange or green," McDouall said.
"I think it's just another call to action to go and get your inoculation."
Some people did not yet have their heads around the new framework, he said.
"It's pretty fresh to us - I think it'll take a while to filter through. I'm still getting my head around it," McDouall said.
"It's not as clear-cut as the four alert levels, but I guess a lot of that complexity has to be there because it's much more detailed in what it's trying to achieve."
Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told RNZ the Government had done a poor job of communicating the changes to the public.
She said people in Covid-free areas wanted an assurance that the rules would be enforced to prevent spread.
"Who is on the ground monitoring and ensuring compliance? Who's doing it all? It raises a whole lot of questions.
"We're not clear how it's going to run and who's going to be making sure it all works."
McDouall said the reopening of the Auckland border was of concern as it was inevitable that Covid-19 would end up in the Whanganui community.
"I'm not going to pretend in any way, shape or form that I'm comfortable with the potential for Covid to spread around the country, whether it's December 15 or now.
"It's fair to say most Aucklanders don't have Covid and have done a fantastic job. But some Aucklanders, a small percentage, have not done it well, and we have Covid throughout our community because of that.
"I'm nervous. The one thing that gives me a lot of faith is that the DHB is prepared and ready, and the vast majority of people are following the rules."