Auckland’s been in lockdown for three full months, and we’re only 11 days away from the government confirming the decision to move the entire country to the traffic light system. With all the rules about public health and safety during Covid, one piece of information has been missing: when is it safe to hookup with a stranger?

As comedian and recent winner of Celebrity Treasure Island Chris Parker asked on Instagram on Wednesday, “When can we go out and have sex with strangers? When can we go and fuck someone we don’t know?”

Amazingly, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern replied to his post, but her response, a comment with a single 😳  ‘flushed face’ emoji, didn’t really clarify the matter. 

“It's an embarrassing conversation, but it is a public health conversation,” Chris told Re:. “We need to be addressing the elephant in the room: when can people be comfortable having flings?”

It turns out he wasn’t actually asking for himself, as he is engaged and lived with his fiance the entire lockdown, a situation that he half-jokingly labels “intimacy privilege”.

“But I've got a couple of single flatmates and I've got a lot of single friends and I really feel for them.”

A huge number of people replied to his Instagram post saying they were “dying to know the answer”, he says. “We've had a long time of being alone locked inside our houses, of course there's a natural urge to go and be with someone, and people want to feel confident about their decisions to do that. People don't want to feel like, ‘Oh I probably shouldn't have done that'.”

We contacted the Ministry of Health to get some answers

Unfortunately, they didn’t give an exact answer on what you can do at each colour of the traffic light.

Instead, a Ministry of Health spokesperson provided an email statement saying vaccination is the best protection against Covid-19, and that they "advise everyone to follow the appropriate rules of the traffic light system". 

“At all traffic light levels this means, if you have symptoms, stay home and get tested, and keep records of where you have been. That includes keeping a record of the name and contact details of people they spend significant time with.”

 “Our advice on sexual health is to practice safe sex, and if you have any concerns or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, get a check-up at a sexual health clinic or your primary care provider.”

We also asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins

The Prime Minister's office said they had forwarded our questions to the Ministry of Health (which means they won't specifically give a comment), and as of the time of publication we haven't heard back from Chris Hipkins. 

But at a press conference today in Gisborne, the Prime Minister did say that “if you want to enjoy summer, you will need to have that vaccine pass,” which you can read into as much as you’d like.

What does an epidemiologist say?

Professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland Rod Jackson has some bad news: there’s not really ever going to be a time when you can hook up without thinking about Covid.

“It's going to get less safe, not more safe from now on in, because Covid is slowly spreading through the country.”

People who live in the South Island should make the most of it now, he says, because “there’s probably a pretty good chance there’s no Covid there, but that's not going to last long.”

The best way to stay safe is to get vaccinated, he says, and you should ask your partners to show their vaccine certificate.

“Maybe it’s a good pickup line: ‘I'm vaccinated, how about you?’”

Joking aside, he says, if you're not vaccinated and you hook up with someone who has Covid, “you're gonna get it”. 

“With Delta the chances of you not getting it are tiny. As we've seen, if it’s in one household pretty much everyone in that household gets it, and they are not all being intimate.”

Additionally, you don't want to hook up with anyone who is unvaccinated, he says, because someone who is unvaccinated “is taking unnecessary risks, and maybe that way of thinking might spill over into other things.”

“There's obviously a whole number of reasons why people aren't getting vaccinated, and my guess is if it’s religious reasons they won't be hooking up anyway. But if it’s someone who can't see the point, or is a risk taker, they may be taking other risks that may not be good for your health.”

The colour of the traffic light won’t really make a difference

With the traffic light system, the government has made an “inevitable” move from an elimination strategy to a suppression strategy, says Professor Jackson. 

“You can’t keep Delta out forever, so in a suppression strategy, that means there's going to be Covid out there in the community and you won't know where it is most of the time.”

So the colours don’t really make a difference to hookups. “All levels are assuming that there's some Covid out there. It's more about how well it’s being managed, as opposed to whether there's any Covid out there.”

“The risk is clearly lower at the lower levels but the risk is there.”

The only time you could suggest it’s safe for unvaccinated people to hookup is when there's no Covid in the community, he says, “which we’re not going to have any more. There is no more Level 1.”

So, he says, it’s going to be about minimising risks instead of reducing risks to zero, and the best way to minimise risk is vaccination.

“And next year you should be asking, ‘Have you had the booster?’ as well.”

So what should you do? 

To summarise the overall advice from the Ministry of Health and Professor Jackson:

  • Get vaccinated, and ask any potential hookups if they are vaccinated
  • Accept that the new normal will be Covid spreading through the community, and take precautions accordingly
  • Keep a record of the name and contact details of people you spend time with
  • Keep a record of where you’ve been
  • If you have Covid-19 symptoms, stay home and get tested

And a quick overview of the traffic light system

Cabinet will confirm the decision for the country to move to the traffic light system on November 29. 

Basically the traffic light system is not like the Alert Level system. The Alert Levels assumed we could eliminate Covid, and therefore they ranged from the total lockdown of Level 4 to the total freedom of Level 1.

The traffic light accepts that with Delta, we can never hope to eliminate Covid, and we just have to work out how to live with it as safely as possible. 

Green:

  • For when there are Covid cases in the community, but transmission is limited, and hospitalisations are manageable
  • No regional boundaries
  • Face coverings will be mandatory on flights
  • Places or events that enforce vaccination certificates will have no limits on them

For those places that do not enforce vaccination certificates:

  • Places or events like hospitality, gatherings, churches, weddings, funerals, events, businesses and gyms that do not require vaccination certificates will be limited to 100 people, with 1m social distancing

Orange:

  • For when community transmission is increasing and putting pressure on hospitals 
  • No regional boundaries
  • Face coverings will be mandatory on flights, public transport including taxis, shops and public venues
  • Places or events that enforce vaccination certificates will have no limits on them

For those places that do not enforce vaccination certificates:

  • Events, gyms and close contact businesses like hairdressers that do not enforce vaccination certificates cannot operate. 
  • Hospitality venues that do not enforce vaccine certificates will be contactless only
  • Gatherings, church, weddings and funerals that do not enforce vaccine certificates will be limited to 50 people with 1m distancing

Red:

  • For when there is an unsustainable number of hospitalisations and our health system cannot cope
  • Face coverings will be mandatory on flights, public transport, in taxis, retail, public venues, and recommended whenever leaving the house.
  • Places and events that enforce vaccination certificates will be able to open for up to 100 people with 1m distancing

For those places that do not enforce vaccination certificates:

  • Events, gyms and close contact businesses like hairdressers that do not enforce vaccination certificates cannot operate. 
  • Hospitality venues that do not enforce vaccine certificates will be contactless only
  • Gatherings, church, weddings and funerals that do not enforce vaccine certificates will be limited to 10 people with 1m distancing

 

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