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Covid-19 NZ: Government to extend vaccine mandates to businesses requiring vaccine certification

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will mandate the Covid-19 vaccine for any worker of a business that requires a vaccine certificate at entry.

Ardern on Tuesday said the Cabinet had decided to place the mandate on businesses who participate in the vaccine certificate scheme.

It meant many restaurants, cafes, gyms, and other “close proximity” businesses, such as hairdressers, that choose to operate with greater freedoms under the “traffic light” system will have to comply.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the safer we all are. That gives us options and the ability to keep people safe without having to use some of the more blanket restrictions that we’ve used in the past,” Ardern said.

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A person’s vaccination status will become increasingly relevant to how they can participate in usual activities under the Government’s proposed “traffic light” system, which will replace the alert level system when each district health board reaches 90 per cent vaccination levels.

Under the system, the “orange light” setting would allow businesses to operate without restrictions on capacity or social distancing if they agree to require customers to prove they have been vaccinated through the vaccine certification system the Government is developing.

Hospitality business not using the certification system will not be able to open, but can operate for contactless transactions.

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If there is a high level of Covid-19 risk, and the system is at the “red light” setting, businesses that don’t require vaccine certification will not be allowed to operate, whereas businesses that require their customers to be vaccinated will operate with limited restrictions.

Retail businesses have been excluded from this vaccination certification system.

Ardern said “people would raise questions” if the Government introduced a vaccine certification system that could require customers to be vaccinated but did not require workers in those businesses to be vaccinated.

“Questions would rightly be asked if required those who are customers to be vaccinated, but not the people that were serving them or working in hospitality … So, this is about creating an environment where it makes sense that you can be assured customers, but also workers, are both vaccinated.

“Your ability to access Government support, and your ability to access, for instance, an unemployment benefit, or to seek support and finding your appointment is, and will not be affected by vaccination status.”

In legislating the change, the Government will require businesses that fire unvaccinated workers to provide them with a four-week paid notice period. Workers will also be provided paid leave, so they can attend a vaccine appointment.

Further mandates were being considered by the Government, including for public sector workers with public-facing jobs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will extend Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will extend Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said that under these changes, up to 40 per cent of the country’s workforce could be covered by vaccine mandates.

He said Cabinet ministers had considered the balance between the mandates and individual rights, and decided “the overriding public importance and public interest of ensuring … that people can have confidence in the places that they enter, means that it’s appropriate”.

Wood said the Government would also legislate to create a “simplified risk assessment” process that will allow employers, who don’t fall under a mandate, to decide whether they will require vaccination for any of their workers.

“We will be working to make it as clear and as simple as possible about when it is reasonable for an employer to require vaccination as a condition of employment,” Wood said.

The Government earlier in October decided it would mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for health and disability sector workers, and for teachers and early learning staffers, by December 1 and January 1 respectively.

Vaccination mandates were placed on managed isolation and quarantine workers and airport and port staff earlier in the year.

Other businesses, including the Countdown supermarket chain and The Warehouse, and Victoria University of Wellington have said vaccine mandates for their staff and students were being considered.

National Party leader Judith Collins, speaking before Ardern on Tuesday, said she was against the Government creating a “two-class society” of the vaccinated and unvaccinated – yet she remained comfortable with businesses barring the unvaccinated.

“Most Kiwis don’t want to see a two-class system and social disharmony,” Collins said.

“We want people to be encouraged to have the right information. And the Government is sitting back and saying they didn’t do anything wrong but they, those people who didn’t get vaccinated, they’re the bad people.”

Collins had previously called for vaccine certificates to be introduced and said businesses should have the right to deny service to those who were unvaccinated.



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