He Pitopito Kōrero
Changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework
He Pitopito Kōrero
Tēnā koe i tēnei ahiahi,
This morning the Prime Minister announced changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework which will take effect from 11.59pm this Friday 25 March, and to vaccine mandates and My Vaccine Pass, which will take effect from 11.59pm Monday 4 April.
These changes reflect the science and public health advice, and where New Zealand has moved to in our Omicron response.
Overall, we are now a highly vaccinated country. While cases remain high, the timing for change reflects that New Zealand is moving into a post-peak phase and our hospitalisations are anticipated to be in a similar position very soon.
New Zealand remains at Red. However, Cabinet will review the framework colour level on Monday 4 April.
We know that for some in your community, these changes may cause some angst. As the Prime Minister noted, everyone is safer as a result of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response, but everyone is tired and fatigued.
We will continue to support you to have conversations with your community starting with further information below about how these changes will impact you.
The details of the changes will be confirmed through a Health Order. If there are any changes that occur through the Order we will update you through future bulletins.
In discussion with education sector representatives this morning, Minister Hipkins passed on a message of thanks to you. He noted how well you have adapted to the changes and challenge.
I echo this message. Thank you all for your continued focus on keeping children and young people engaged in learning and as safe as possible.
Ngā mihi maioha,
Overview of the key changes
The key changes are as follows.
COVID-19 Protection Framework, My Vaccine Pass and vaccination mandates
- The removal of vaccination mandates for education workers will take effect from 11.59pm Monday 4 April.
- On the same date, removal of the My Vaccine Pass from the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system).
- There is no requirement to display QR code posters (although we encourage you to retain them) or have other processes, other than your regular processes, to support people to check-in. This system may need to return if case numbers rise.
- There is no change to masks in education settings from the existing Red setting: Medical-grade masks remain a requirement for staff working indoors with children and young people in Years 4 to 13.
- For all New Zealanders, including in school settings, masks will not be required outdoors.
- Capacity limits will be removed for outdoor events and activities.
- Indoor capacity limits for extra-curricular activities increase to 200 people, or a maximum capacity based on the maximum number of people who could occupy the space if each person was one metre apart (whichever is lower).
- There is no change to masks in education settings from the existing Orange setting. Masks are strongly encouraged to be worn when indoors and are required for children aged 12 and over on school transport.
- As at Red, there will be no requirement to wear masks when outdoors.
- There will be no outdoor capacity limits.
- Indoor capacity limits are also removed. However, for non-curriculum related events and activities you are strongly encouraged to use allocated seating for large events (such as those with more than 500 people) or apply a maximum capacity limit based on the maximum number of people who could occupy the space if each person was one metre apart.
- There will be no face mask requirements and no capacity or gathering limits in any setting, indoors or outdoors.
Guidance on mandatory vaccination requirements ending
From 11.59pm on Monday 4 April, all workers in early learning services, schools and kura will no longer be required to be vaccinated to work with children or students, or to work on site where children and young people might be present.
Volunteer workers will also no longer be required to be vaccinated.
Why this change has been made
High rates of vaccination are effective in keeping our tamariki in our schools and kura protected from COVID-19.
The vaccine mandates have been central in getting us to this point, but mandates need to be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain fit for purpose and are proportionate to the risks, as well as reflecting the other safety measures that are in place.
The Government’s decision is based upon the assessment that the mandates are no longer appropriate given where New Zealand is at in our Omicron response.
Given this context, including that your workforce is highly vaccinated, your school will need to consider what work, if any, will continue to need to be undertaken by a vaccinated worker.
There may be some specific roles within a school where vaccination is needed to provide the greatest level of protection for those most vulnerable – an example of this may be where staff work in close contact with an immunocompromised child or young person. There may also be other work that, after careful consideration, your school board considers requires vaccination.
It is unlikely that many schools would determine through this risk assessment process that all workers (paid and unpaid) will need to be vaccinated. It is important that you work with your staff and their representatives when identifying health and safety risks and how these will be managed. Your community is likely to want to understand if vaccinations are required and, if so, why this is the case.
You can continue to ask workers about their vaccination status if you have a good reason to do so – for example, they are undertaking work which your health and safety assessment has identified requires vaccination as one of the measures to control these risks. However, as vaccination is personal information employees will no longer be required to disclose this to you.
Assessing whether roles should require vaccination
Further advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe.
MBIE and WorkSafe are also updating their guidance to reflect the removal of vaccine mandates, to support your risk assessment process. We will provide that updated information to you as soon as it becomes available.
The risk assessment guidance we have provided can also support you to look at other measures outside of mandating vaccinations where you have identified some areas where your children, students and staff might be more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Continuing to encourage and support vaccination in your community will certainly be one measure you can use to add to those other layers of protection, and we will work with the Ministry of Health to support you to do that.
Implications for your employment processes
The vaccine mandate removal has implications for your employment practices.
Once the mandatory vaccination requirements are removed, any employment processes which are underway because an employee is not vaccinated should cease.
If your school board is currently involved in such an employment process, please seek advice from NZSTA, Te Rūnanga Nui or your employment advisor.
We acknowledge that it will be a difficult period as we move away from the vaccination requirements.
To help with this we have provided answers to anticipated questions about the management of staff when vaccinations are no longer mandatory.
Other changes to the COVID-19 Protection Framework
My Vaccine Pass (MVP) requirements will be removed from the framework at 11.59pm Monday 4 April.
However, it may still be used by some businesses to allow only vaccinated people on premises (but only following a risk and health and safety assessment process).
Passes will be updated to reflect boosters and existing prohibitions from using My Vaccine Pass will continue to apply for education and other settings (for example, supermarkets, pharmacies).
Other more minor impacts for schools are primarily related to managing non-curriculum related events and activities under the different colour settings of the framework, such as capacity limit changes and revised mask requirements.
We will provide further information on these changes once the health order amendments are confirmed and Government advice is updated for businesses and services in regard to removal of the MVP from the framework.