It was on the night of April 13, 2022 that New Zealand moved to the orange setting of the Covid-19 Protection Framework after having been in red since late January due to the Omicron outbreak.

Since it has been more than two months of being in the orange light and many Covid-19 restrictions have been eased out since then, including scrapping the pre-departure test for NZ. In addition, passengers transiting through NZ now no longer need to be vaccinated nor be required to complete an NZ Traveller Declaration. 

So, now the big question that many people are asking is when will Aotearoa move to the Green setting of the Covid-19 Protection Framework?

While during the orange setting, there are no capacity limits on gatherings, either indoors or outdoors. Previous requirements to display QR codes and use vaccine passes are also no longer in place. Face masks must continue to be worn in some indoor locations, like on public transport and in retail, but not in hospitality. But there are no such restrictions when the green setting is in place.

When Indian Weekender got in touch with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), a spokesperson said a shift is unlikely before the end of winter.

“The changes to traffic light settings are always subject to public health advice, but people should not expect a shift to Green to happen before the end of winter,” said the spokesperson, adding, “We know that there will be further outbreaks of Omicron and, with our borders open, we are likely to see an increase in seasonal flu and other viruses that we have not experienced so severely for the last two years. The next review of the traffic light settings will be in late June.”

Even experts feel that New Zealanders will have to wait a while before the green settings can be implemented.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker maintains that there is no basis for relaxing Covid-19 controls in NZ at present as Covid-19 case numbers, hospitalisations, and deaths are high.

“There is huge pressure on our health care system, and even schools are struggling to stay open in the current situation. Consequently, now is not the time to even consider moving to the green level in the Covid-19 protection framework,” says Baker.

Professor Michael Plank of Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa agrees with Baker and says, “Covid-19 is placing a significant load on our healthcare system, which is under extreme strain with the combination of Covid and other winter bugs at the moment. A second wave will likely occur in the next 1-2 months due to new variants that are now spreading rapidly in NZ.”

Both Baker and Plank believe that moving to green light, which means removing protections such as masks at this point, would risk making the wave bigger and further increasing the demand on the healthcare system.

Baker says, “If anything, some controls should probably be increased. For example, schools should require mask-wearing to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, influenza, and other respiratory infections. One can think of moving to green once we have gotten through the difficult winter period and the threat of a second wave."