• Leah Norman

Life at Alert Level Red

Following today's announcement that all of New Zealand will move to Alert Level Red at midnight tonight (Sunday 23 January 2022) here is some detail on what the 'red' setting means for you as employers

A few days ago on 20 January 2022 the Government addressed how New Zealand would respond to an inevitable outbreak of the COVID-19 variant Omicron. Jacinda Ardern confirmed that lockdowns will not be imposed, and instead announced that should we see evidence of community transmission the entire country will move into the red traffic light setting.

Just three days later, today is that day. Our whole country moved to red at midnight on Sunday 23 January 2022.

Red is the highest level in the traffic light system and is where action needs to be taken to protect people and the health system from an unsustainable number of hospitalisations.

The red setting allows businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but includes mask wearing and gathering restrictions to help slow the spread of the virus and keep pressure off our health system

Experience of other countries shows us that it could take as little as 14 days for Omicron cases to grow from the hundreds into the thousands. Most of those people who catch Omicron will need to self-isolate at home - and officials are encouraging people to be prepared.

So what does life look like at the ‘red’ traffic light setting?

While the red traffic light setting is not as restrictive as previous lockdowns in alert level 3 and 4, there are still rules businesses and people must abide by.

Retail and hospitality businesses can remain open, with hospitality having Vaccine Pass restrictions. Face coverings must be worn by customers and staff, and the same limits on capacity as those enforced for public gatherings apply.

Schools and education providers can continue operating in person. Children and parents cannot be prevented from going to school based on their vaccination status, however teachers and staff must be fully vaccinated to have contact with children. Children aged Year 4 and up are required to wear face coverings when indoors. Tertiary students can attend classes in person if they hold a Vaccine Pass.

There are no travel restrictions within New Zealand, although some transport providers such as airlines and ferries will require either a Vaccine Pass or a negative Covid-19 test. Face coverings must be worn on public transport and in taxis and ride shares.

What about Workplaces?

In short; “Workplaces can open at red, with the option of working from home if your employer considers it is appropriate for your job". At this level, most businesses can choose whether they use My Vaccine Pass for customers and visitors, but there will be restrictions if they do not, including possibly needing to close.

Most businesses can choose whether they use My Vaccine Pass for customers and visitors, but there will be restrictions if they do not, including possibly needing to close.

They can also switch between requiring My Vaccine Pass and not requiring My Vaccine Pass. This could happen in workplaces where there are different groups entering the venue after each other.

If a business chooses to switch:

  • there must be no mingling of groups

  • rooms should be well ventilated

  • high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, should be cleaned between groups

  • everyone, both staff and visitors, must be told what the vaccine pass requirements are — whether it is for people with My Vaccine Pass, or a mix of people with and without My Vaccine Pass.

Our advice to clients, given recent amendments to isolation policy (cases will be required to isolate for a minimum 14 days and close contacts for at least 10 days), is that working from home is encouraged or recommended now under the red setting of the traffic light system now to err on the side of caution. Where this is not possible or not best for the business, we further recommend grouping or "bubbling" your staff, arranging for them to work "shifts" to avoid the full workforce being out at one time.

As we see the inevitable and significant increase in case numbers, resources will be focused on protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, critical workers who are identified as close contacts can return to work if they are asymptomatic and can provide a negative result on a rapid antigen test. An individual will be classified as a ‘critical worker’ if they are working to provide essential goods and services like food or if they play a key role in our response to COVID-19.

In light of the inevitable spread of Omicron across the community and ultimately workplaces, we recommend employers look to prepare for mass absenteeism (either because staff are close contacts or have contracted COVID).


This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.