How New Zealand’s new vaccine plan will create a ‘two-tier society’

Jacinda Ardern unveils traffic-light system that will grant more rights to fully jabbed people

Jacinda Ardern
(Image credit: Mark Mitchell/Pool/Getty Images)

The UK and other countries are being urged to follow New Zealand’s lead in creating “two different classes of people” by granting more freedoms to those fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The call comes after New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked by a journalist whether her nation’s new traffic light system would result in a social divide in which “If you’re vaccinated, you have all these rights”. Ardern confirmed “that is what it is”.

Linda Forst, a professor in environmental health at the University of Illinois Chicago, told the i news site that other governments needed to adopt a similar approach in order to end the global pandemic. “This is an infectious disease that knows no boundaries,” Forst said. “We need to hold this paradox and, in my opinion, do what is right for society as a whole, even if we feel it violates our personal rights.”

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Red alert

Under New Zealand’s new traffic light system, a “red” warning level will be imposed in the event of “a major Covid-19 outbreak”, said the i news site. “Vaccinated people would be encouraged to work from home but would be allowed to attend gatherings and visit shops, bars and restaurants with relative freedom.”

But unvaccinated people will only be permitted to gather “in groups of ten and cannot go to restaurants, bars, gyms or hairdressers”. And those in “tertiary education” – any level beyond secondary school – will also not be allowed to attend in-person lessons.

By contrast, fully jabbed people will still be permitted to attend in-person classes provided social distancing measures are in place.

All three levels “allow relatively high rates of freedom compared to the current alert level system”, said The New Zealand Herald. “However, they will also require the use of vaccine certificates for nearly everything apart from essential retail and services, like supermarkets and GPs.”

The country – which has retreated from plans to keep its border closed as part of a zero-Covid policy – has introduced mandatory vaccination for education and health staff, who must prove that they have been jabbed in the coming months or risk losing their jobs.

When New Zealand will shift to the traffic light system is unclear. Ardern last week “announced that 90% of eligible New Zealanders needed to be fully vaccinated across each District Health Board (DHB) region” before the country changes course, The Guardian reported.

“We cannot ask vaccinated people to stay home forever. So now we need a new playbook to reflect a population protected from Covid,” Ardern told a press conference on Friday. The plan paves the way for “a future where we want to continue to protect people’s lives, but also to live our lives”, she said.

“If you are still unvaccinated, not only will you be more at risk of catching Covid-19, but many of the freedoms others enjoy will be out of reach,” Ardern added.

“No one wants that to happen but we need to minimise the threat of the virus, which is now mainly spreading amongst unvaccinated people.”

‘Moral responsibility’

Ardern’s policy has proved controversial within New Zealand. Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi described the move as “a real-life Squid Game, telling reporters: “The PM says no one will be left behind. What she means is no one will be left behind except for Maori.”

Maori and Pacific New Zealanders currently lag behind national vaccination rates.

Waititi’s co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer added: “On every single Covid indicator, Maori are significantly behind every other ethnicity. On every single indicator, Maori are likely to take the biggest hits from a Delta outbreak, vaccinated or not.”

National Party leader Judith Collins described the new traffic-light system as “dismaying, confusing and complicated”.

She told reporters that the target to vaccinate 90% of the population before granting New Zealanders greater freedoms meant that fully jabbed people risked “being held to ransom by some people who don’t want to get vaccinated”.

The Spectator’s Cockburn columnist said that “the shine is coming off the blessed Jacinda” amid widespread fears about the “emergence of a de facto two-tier society”.

The New Zealand leader “was lionized by the Western intelligentsia as the ideal model of a liberal, centrist leader who saved her country by locking down during the pandemic”, but now we are starting to see “her all-too human failings”, the magazine continued.

“It is worth remembering that only 58% of the country are ‘fully’ vaccinated – meaning that Ardern proposes to limit the rights of more than two-fifths of her fellow countrymen. How will that fare come the next election?”

For The Telegraph’s global health security deputy editor Anne Gulland, the shift towards “a two-tier society” in New Zealand is just part of an emerging global theme in which “the unvaccinated are already a global underclass”.

“This policy is not confined to the Pacific island nation,” she continued. “Vaccine passes are gaining traction around the world as countries introduce greater freedoms for those who are immunised, risking the creation of an unvaccinated underclass.”

Gulland pointed to the “eye-opening” vaccine mandate under consideration is in Austria, “where the number of cases is climbing again – and those who are unjabbed risk being confined to their homes”.

But Professor Forst told the i news site that policies like New Zealand’s traffic light system are part of a necessary move towards individuals “balancing the right to make their own decision versus their moral responsibility to community”.

“Those who refuse to get vaccinated, or refuse to disclose vaccination status, value their personal rights over the rights of others,” she said.

“All countries need to be mindful of what is best for themselves and best for the rest of the world – most protective of the public’s health and welfare. We all need to link arms on this.”

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