October 11, 2021 Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland will not be eased as alert level 3 “as is” will remain in place for another week. Waikato and Northland remain at alert level 3 until 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
Hundreds of thousands of education and health professionals – including teachers, GPs, pharmacists and nurses – will have to be fully vaccinated in the coming months or meet their jobs.
The deadline for two doses for high-risk health and disability staff is 1 December this year, and for education – including all school and ECE staff who come into contact with students – it is 1 January next year.
High schools from next year must also keep a register to show students’ vaccination status.
Covid-19 reaction minister Chris Hipkins, who is also education minister, has just unveiled the cabinet’s decision on mandatory vaccinations for workers in the education and health sectors.
“It’s not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who have not yet been vaccinated to take this extra step,” he said.
“Exceptions may be possible in certain circumstances.”
Healthcare professionals must be fully vaccinated by 1 December this year and must have had their first dose by 30 October.
The public health ordinance that requires this will cover GPs, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics and all healthcare professionals in places where vulnerable patients are treated (including intensive care units).
“These requirements also include certain non-regulated health work, such as nursing homes, home and local support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and NGOs providing health services,” Hipkins said.
The full list will be delivered within the next few days.
Health Director Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said he has a high level of confidence that health professionals will be vaccinated, especially those in isolated communities.
He said he has not thought of an exception process and he would consider each case separately.
All schools and ECE staff in contact with children and students must have a first dose before 15 November and be fully vaccinated before 1 January.
“This includes home-based educators and all those who support people in our schools and early learning services such as teaching assistants, administration and maintenance staff and contractors,” Hipkins said.
“High schools and cures will also be required to maintain a Covid-19 vaccination registry for students. Students who do not provide proof of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated.”
Parents who volunteer at schools must also be fully vaccinated.
Hipkins said all school staff in Auckland and other Level 3 regions must return a negative Covid-19 test before they can return to on-site work.
“Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period up to January 1, 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing.”
The Department of Education will work closely with smaller schools in isolated communities, Hipkins said. Those in rural areas were just as vulnerable as people living in cities, and that was a message that would be pushed into schools.
Hipkins said the ministry is used to supporting schools in need of short-term staff and will continue to do so.
Students are not required to be vaccinated, Hipkins said. Officials know that a significant number of children cannot be vaccinated at the moment, although they called on everyone who was eligible to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
The government had taken the view that the unvaccinated should not be excluded from education.
Hipkins noted that there has been a positive increase in vaccination in recent weeks as schools work with local health providers.
The government was still considering whether mandatory vaccinations would be required in higher education.
Although there had been support for mandatory vaccinations for these workforces, there has also been some decline.
The NZ Council of Trade Unions has previously warned that a general vaccination order can do more harm than good because it can create a sense of coercion.
And more than 5,000 people have signed a petition not asking for mandatory vaccinations, which have been submitted to parliament.
This morning, a number of health and youth experts in a blog post on public health at Otago University called for a clear strategy to minimize infections in school settings.
These included mandatory vaccination for all adults on school websites – and no on-site learning to start before 90 percent staff vaccination coverage – regular staff testing, school vaccination events and guidelines for ventilation, physical distancing and the use of masks.
Schools in Auckland had been earmarked to open from October 18 pending health advice.
ECE centers in Auckland opened last week, but limited to bubbles of 10 people and subject to availability – some centers already had bubble capacity because key workers could already drop off their children at ECE centers.
Medical bodies back mandatory wax calls
The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has supported the call for mandatory vaccinations for those in the health and disability field.
“As healthcare professionals, we need to ensure the safety of our patients, communities and colleagues,” said University President Dr. Samantha Murton.
“Given the speed with which Delta is spreading throughout our country, this is a bold but necessary call to make.
“The people who work in these two sectors work in close contact with our most vulnerable members of society; those who are too young to be vaccinated or who have significant underlying medical conditions.
“While most GPs are already fully vaccinated, it is now time to make one last push to be fully vaccinated before 1 December 2021. This means that our GPs must have their first dose before 30 October. to be fully vaccinated before the deadline. “
The NZ Medical Association has also welcomed the announcement, with President Dr. Alistair Humphrey said the move will keep patients and healthcare professionals safe.
“Today’s announcement will save lives,” he said.
“All physicians must be vaccinated, and we know that the vast majority are. Principle 1 of the Code of Ethics for the New Zealand Medical Profession is that patient health and well-being are a physician’s first priority.”
Doctors and other health care workers are more likely to be exposed to Covid-19 during their work, he said.
It follows that their patients, many of whom are debilitated or immunocompromised, are more likely to suffer serious complications if they are infected by the doctor.
“We called a month ago that all doctors involved in patient care should be fully vaccinated – we are delighted that the government has come to the same view.”
ProCare, New Zealand’s largest network of primary healthcare professionals, also welcomed mandatory vaccinations for healthcare professionals.
CEO Bindi Norwell said it was something ProCare had advocated for protecting doctors, nurses, practice leaders and the thousands of patients who come to general practice each year.
“This is about giving patients safety and ensuring that we protect some of the most vulnerable patients that our practice sees. We also hope that it will mean that patients will feel safe visiting their doctor, rather than to postpone a visit until absolutely necessary.
“It will also provide security for the healthcare sector in the form of a regulatory approach; so everyone knows where they stand, what the rules are and that there will be no areas of confusion.”
Companies ‘would welcome’ – Barnett
Mandatory vaccination for education, healthcare workers and related services is an important principle that should apply to all workplaces that strive to keep their employees and customers safe and healthy, says Michael Barnett, CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber.
“If no jab no job should be the rule for select people who turn services by government order, then it is certainly a principle that business owners would also welcome by government order, as well as enable quick access to fast test technologies to better manage and reduce risks . “
Barnett said it was extremely disappointing that Auckland remain in a retention pattern without easing any restrictions as the virus sets the pace and leaks continue at the border.