Relaxed visa rules – a portent (perhaps) of importing teachers and health workers to replace those who eschew vaccination

The big moment came as we had hoped, roughly this time yesterday, and the PM delivered her news on Cabinet’s review of alert level settings in Auckland, Waikato and Northland.  Chris Hipkins, the Minister in charge of the response to Covid-19, then announced the Cabinet’s decisions to make vaccination mandatory for large parts of the education and health workforce.

The news from the PM was disappointing for Aucklanders.  Their level-3 Covid restrictions have been extended for another week and students will not return to class next Monday

Waikato and Northland became subject to tentative plans to be lowered to from level 3 – to level 2 – from 11.59pm on Thursday.

Then Hipkins announced a toughening of the vaccination regimen:

  • High-risk workers in the health and disability sector must be fully vaccinated by 1 December and receive their first dose by 30 October
  • School and early learning staff and support people who have contact with children and students to be fully vaccinated by 1 January, 2022, and receive their first dose by 15 November.

Exemptions may be possible under some circumstances.

Another item of health news emerged subsequently, but it was of interest more to those who want to hasten their journey to the hereafter (and the medics who will aid and abet this) than to those who will be affected by a no-jab-no-job policy.

Health Minister Andrew Little said the health system is ready for the implementation of the End of Life Choice Act when it takes effect next month, making assisted dying legal in New Zealand.

The Government has appointed a three-person specialist committee to oversee the operation of the Act. Membership of the End of Life Review Committee must include a medical ethicist, a doctor specialising in end-of-life care and a health practitioner.

The first three members of the committee are:

    • Dr Dana Wensley, medical ethicist.
    • Ms Brenda Close, health practitioner.
    • Dr Jane Greville, medical practitioner practising end-of-life care.

The committee will review reports on assisted deaths and report to the Registrar (assisted dying) at the Ministry of Health and to the Minister of Health.

Hipkins, meanwhile, has been preoccupied with protecting people against Covid-19.

Explaining mandatory vaccinations for health and education workers, he explained:

”It’s not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven’t yet been vaccinated to take this extra step.”

Vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 are not yet approved and the health and disability sector includes a range of high-risk occupations.

Moreover:

“People have a reasonable expectation that our work forces are taking all reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of disease, and government agencies have been working with them to ensure they are as protected as possible.   

“A high rate of vaccinations will help to protect staff from getting sick and passing COVID-19 onto loved ones. It will also reassure those who are anxious about their children attending school and early learning services.”

Another item of news from the Beehive advised us about an easing of immigration rules to help with shortages of some workers.

The Government will extend Working Holiday visas and Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) work visas for six months to provide more certainty to employers and visa holders over summer.

More than 8,500 people on Working Holiday visas and SSE work visas due to expire between 21 December 2021 and 30 June 2022 will benefit from the six month extension.

We wonder when the rules will be further relaxed to facilitate an inflow of health workers and teachers.

We mention this because we reckon there is bound to be some resistance to mandatory vaccinations among teachers and health workers.  Our evidence –

  • The College of Midwives says it backs vaccinations and the vast majority of its members do too but the workforce is stretched. Any refusal to take the compulsory vaccination could mean there is not enough maternity cover at the busiest time of the year in December.
  • A Stuff report says intensive care nurses are the key to increasing capacity to deal with the pandemic because they are required around-the-clock to staff beds, but as of September 27 the country is 100 short. The shortage will be greater if some don’t take their shots.
  • NZEI president Liam Rutherford told RNZ’s Checkpoint he welcomes the announcement of mandatory vaccination for education staff but some teachers might refuse vaccination and create staff shortages.

And so on …

Workers at our MIQ and at airports and ports are already required to be vaccinated, of course.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 will be updated to require anyone conducting high-risk work in the health and disability sector to be fully vaccinated by 1 December, 2021.

Under these new requirements, general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units) must receive their first dose of the vaccine by 30th October.

These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and Non-Government Organisations who provide health services.

The full list will be provided in the next few days.

From 1 January, 2022, schools and early learning services and providers will need to maintain a register, and ensure only vaccinated staff and support people have contact with children and students.

This includes home-based educators, and all support people in schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors.

Secondary schools and kura will be required to keep a COVID-19 vaccination register for students. Students who do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated.

Immigration Minister Kris  Faafoi announced the six-months extension of Working Holiday visas and Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) work visas to provide more certainty to employers and visa holders over the summer.

“This offers employers and visa holders the certainty they’ve been asking for going into this summer’s harvest season and which we said we’d provide, if necessary, back in June when we announced the last six month extension,” Kris Faafoi said.

Those on Working Holiday visas and SSE work visas due to expire between 21 December 2021 and 30 June 2022 will benefit from the half-year  extension.

They will also continue to have open work rights, allowing them to work in any sector to help meet labour market demands where they exist.

Other changes over the past 18 months have included border exceptions to bring in over 18,000 critical workers and their families, and extending the length of new Essential Skills visas from 12 to 24 months for jobs paid below the median wage.

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