Restaurants that reject vaccine passes in favour of ‘equality’ for the unvaccinated harm us all | Philip McKibbin

Like most Aucklanders, I can’t wait to get out of the city. After more than three months in lockdown, I’m keen for a break. Last summer, my partner and I went to Tauranga. We had so much fun that we’re planning to return – but this time, things will be different.

As Aotearoa New Zealand shifts from the Covid-19 “alert level” system to the new “traffic light” system, hospitality venues have been given a choice. Under the “red” and “orange” settings, they can welcome customers inside, but only if they’re willing to check vaccine passes. If they don’t want to do that, their service has to be contactless.

Most venues have welcomed the new vaccine pass – but unsurprisingly, some are resisting it. A small number have announced they will be adopting contactless procedures for all, until they can welcome everyone “equally”.

I was especially disappointed to hear that one of my favourite Tauranga eateries is taking that stance. Last summer, their food was a highlight for us. It’s a shame, then, that we won’t be returning to eat there unless their response to the vaccine rules changes.

The messaging these venues are using may sound community-focused – especially when they say things like they don’t want to “discriminate”, and they respect personal choices – but their stance reveals the opposite. Their refusal to support the vaccine pass is a harmful political statement that undermines efforts to keep people safe.

It may appear that the vaccine pass grants special privileges to people who are vaccinated and punishes those who aren’t, but really, it is designed to protect us all. In fact, by helping to slow the spread of Covid-19, those who will benefit most from it are the unvaccinated, who are more likely to catch the virus and more likely to suffer serious complications when they do. The vaccine rules protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, including children (who cannot yet get vaccinated), the immunocompromised and those with medical conditions that prevent them from receiving the vaccine.

If hospitality venues genuinely wish to serve their communities, one of the best things they can do is actively and vocally support the vaccine pass, because this will encourage more people to get vaccinated, helping us beat Covid-19.

One of the common objections to the vaccine pass is that it is incompatible with the very notion of “hospitality” – after all, isn’t welcoming people what it means to be hospitable? Well, yes and no. As usual, te ao Māori (the Māori world) is instructive here. I think about the concept of “manaakitanga”. Manaakitanga isn’t just about welcoming people; it’s about caring for them, too. As hosts, we do our best to make sure our guests are well looked-after – physically, emotionally and spiritually. And like many Māori concepts, this one is grounded in reciprocity: being a good guest means respecting your hosts and fellow manuhiri.

Manaakitanga requires that we work together in caring for one another. The vaccine pass is a tool that helps us to do this, whether we are hosting or guests.

It is misleading to argue – as some critics have – that if hospitality venues use the vaccine pass then the unvaccinated will miss out. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the rules to prevent venues from offering contactless, takeaway options for the unvaccinated, while still using the vaccine pass with people who wish to sit inside.

As Kiwis, we like to look out for each other. One way we can do this is by supporting businesses that embrace the vaccine pass. Let’s tautoko (support) their efforts to promote public health, and make it clear that we think they’re doing the right thing.

I can’t wait to get back to Tauranga. I plan to spend those few precious days drinking iced coffee, boogie boarding at the beach and climbing Mount Maunganui. I’ll also be on the lookout for new eateries – ones that are playing their part to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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