A journalist from the New Zealand Herald asked the Prime Minister: “You’ve basically said, and you probably don’t see it like this, but two different classes of people if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated. If you’re vaccinated you have all these rights.”
In response, the New Zealand Prime Minister smiled and nodded, saying “That is what it is.”
The new plans, which she said were designed to boost vaccination rates and public confidence, were outlined at a press conference last Friday.
She said that 90 percent of New Zealanders needed to be fully vaccinated in each region before the whole country can start loosening restrictions.
The new plans, drawn up as a “traffic-light system”, will see those who are fully vaccinated able to move around and use services relatively freely.
This “red” stage of the plans will also see businesses remain open.
However, unvaccinated citizens will be faced with much tighter restrictions, being unable to use “close contact” businesses like restaurants, bars and gyms.
They will also be prevented from gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
Ardern has so far been praised for her pandemic response, with the country’s infection and death rates both remaining low throughout the crisis, but concerns have been raised that New Zealand’s Māori population will be disproportionately impacted by the system as vaccination rates remain low.
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi likened the policies to “Squid Game” – the new Netflix show which sees contestants compete in children’s games, while the losers are executed.
Co-Leader Debbi Ngarewa-Packer added: “On every single Covid indicator, Māori are significantly behind every other ethnicity.
“On every single indicator, Māori are likely to take the biggest hits from a Delta outbreak, vaccinated or not.”
New Zealand has so far seen 28 coronavirus related deaths, and 5,638 cases.
Ms Ardern 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.
“No one wants that to happen but we need to minimise the threat of the virus, which is now mainly spreading amongst unvaccinated people.”
As of last Sunday, only 58 percent of the New Zealand population was fully vaccinated.
Judith Collins, New Zealand Leader of the Opposition, condemned the plans as “dismaying, confusing and complicated”, arguing that Aucklanders would end up “being held to ransom by some people who don’t want to get vaccinated.”
The policy change marks an end to the country’s long-held Covid elimination strategy, which involved banning international travel and imposing strict lockdowns when any new cases were detected.