Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23

Fifteen new community cases of COVID-19 have been announced on Thursday, all in Auckland.

Three of those cases have yet to be linked to the original Delta outbreak.

Meanwhile, new COVID-19 modelling paints a grim picture if it relies on vaccination alone - with experts suggesting health systems would be overwhelmed if only 80 percent of New Zealanders get vaccinated against the virus.

What you need to know: 

  • Fifteen community cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Auckland on Thursday
  • The case total of New Zealand's Delta outbreak is now 1123
  • New modelling shows even if New Zealand reaches a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 80 percent, there would still be 60,000 hospitalisations and 7000 deaths per year, without restrictions
  • Forty percent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Work is underway to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health workers.

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7pm - A total of 235,108 vehicles have been stopped at the 10 checkpoints on Auckland's northern and southern boundaries between August 31 and Wednesday night.

Of them, 3578 vehicles have been turned around during this time, a police spokesperson said.

In regards to COVID-19 restriction compliance, 93 people in Tāmaki Makaurau have been charged with a total of 97 offences since alert level 4 was implemented.

Of these, 80 are for Failing to Comply with Order (COVID-19), 14 for Failure to Comply with Direction/Prohibition/Restriction, one for Failing to Stop (COVID-19-related), and two for Assaults/Threatens/Hinders/Obstructs Enforcement Officer.

In the same time period, 194 people were formally warned for a range of offences.

Police confirmed they have also received a total of 10,342 105-online breach notifications relating to businesses, mass gatherings or people in Tāmaki Makaurau.

6:40pm - Kiwis attempting to relocate to a new home or travel for shared childcare arrangements are among those who were turned around at the Auckland alert level border.

Police have issued a reminder to Aucklanders that travel through border checkpoints remains heavily restricted while the city remains in alert level 3.

"Under the current rules, if you are travelling through an alert level boundary to relocate your main home on a permanent basis, your place of departure cannot be in the Alert Level 3 area," a police spokesperson said.

"You also cannot cross an alert level boundary to take a child to and from a shared caregiver’s place of residence, if your place of departure or destination is in an alert level 3 area.

"Anyone unsure if their reason for travelling across an alert level boundary is permitted should check the latest requirements here.

6:15pm - There are new visits to the two locations of interest Pak'nSave Sylvia Park and Othello Superette in Clover Park.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23

6pm - Newshub Live at 6 is on now where our reporters will have the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Watch the show here or on Three.

5:50pm - Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says it's "great news" there will be no additional MIQ facilities in Rotorua.

"It's really good we have been listened to and I thank Minister Hipkins and his Cabinet colleagues for that," she said.

"The prospect of more MIQ in our city was genuinely worrying and it was good to see the community and local leaders, including our MPs, getting activated and voicing their concerns."

The Government's decision is also being welcomed by Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao, Te Paetapu o Te Pākira Marae, Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa leaders.

Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao and Ngāti Whakaue said they are pleased Ministers have listened to local cultural, health and economic concerns.

"While we completely understand the frustrations and distress of New Zealanders overseas who are trying to come home, a proposed fourth MIQ in Rotorua would be a risk that is simply too much for us to bear," said Ngāti Whakaue kaumatua and Te Arawa COVID Hub Chair, Monty Morrison.

"We are a community that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and the threat of community transmission from an MIQ is an ever-present danger."

Tūhourangi Tribal Authority chair Kirikowhai Mikaere said its people are thrilled.

"The proposed location for the additional site was literally on the back doorstep of the historic Whakarewarewa Village – a location that is still home to many of our whānau, and that is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of tourism in Aotearoa," Mikaere said.

"The village provides income, shelter, and spiritual sustenance for an iwi that has contributed hugely to the fabric of this nation.

"The proposed MIQ development would have significantly impacted our cultural obligations and responsibilities, and inhibited our city’s economic and tourism recovery. Now that this cloud has passed, we can go back to focusing on supporting our whānau through COVID."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

5:20pm - The Prime Minister has issued a thinly veiled warning to New Zealanders as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up in Auckland.

Jacinda Ardern is warning that for any progress to be made towards returning to some form of pre-pandemic normality, everyone has to do their bit.

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday afternoon, Ardern called on Kiwis to play their part - with a barely concealed jab at those who have so far refused to get vaccinated. 

"The progress in recent weeks has been significant… 90 percent is within [our] sights. Now we need to work together to see all of our communities get up to those rates and beyond," she said. 

"It's not the Aotearoa way to leave anyone behind and it just doesn't feel right. So here is our chance to lead the world again and that comes down to each and every one of us. We have the supply of vaccines we need, we have the workforce ready to do the job - so have that conversation with your whanau or friends. Help someone make a booking or give them a lift to a vaccination centre. Each action, large or small, gets us a step closer to the opportunities and freedoms we all want."

Read the full story here.

4:50pm - Lifeline Aotearoa has revealed calls and texts to its helpline have spiked up 88 percent compared to 2019 and show little sign of slowing, even when lockdown levels drop. 

Lifeline recorded its highest ever text day on September 10, which was also World Suicide Prevention Day.  

During the latest lockdown Lifeline also received more than 10,000 texts and calls a week, up almost 40 percent compared to the alert level 4 lockdown in early 2020. 

In the first week of the current lockdown, Lifeline received about 8500 calls and texts, which rose to 8700 in week two, 10,900 in week three, 11,167 in week four, and 10,713 in week five (when most of New Zealand moved to alert level 2.)  

Many of these callers were first-time callers reaching out with a range of issues, particularly relating to isolation and loneliness.

Operations manager Helena de Fontenay said while it's "a good thing" Kiwis are actively seeking mental health support through conversations, the stress of COVID-19 is showing up in more complex calls involving suicidal thoughts, self-harm and risk to others. 

"We want people to call us to talk about what is going through their minds. We want to hear those complex calls and difficult thoughts, because we can help," she said. 

"Mental Health Awareness Week's theme this year is 'Take Time to Kōrero', and that is exactly what we want people to do when they call Lifeline."

To meet the increased need, Lifeline is requesting urgent funds to train more staff and volunteers.

4:20pm - National's Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has slammed the Government's appointment of board members to head up its "ill-timed and ideologically-driven health system restructure".

He says it shows how out of step the Government is on the chronic issues currently affecting New Zealand’s health system.

"The Government’s costly distraction with restructuring the health system in the middle of a pandemic may explain why our Intensive Care Units were under-prepared and why Auckland is still in level 3 lockdown," Dr Reti says.

"The Government has so far spent $38 million on 78 Wellington bureaucrats and another $4.3 million on 21 Ernst & Young consultants to plan the restructure project. This money could have been used to pay a premium, as other countries did, to get the Pfizer vaccine into New Zealand much more quickly.

"The Government should be focusing on the 62,000 cancelled procedures, including for people with cancer, right now rather than progressing health restructuring during a pandemic.

"And today's announcement of board appointments for the ideological restructure is both cynical and confounding.

"Why does the Government continue to disregard General Practitioners? There is no primary care person on the new Health New Zealand board, which continues the Government's theme of ignoring GPs and pharmacies throughout the COVID vaccine rollout.

"Instead, the Government is adding layers of new health bureaucracy, at a starting cost of $486 million.

"Does the Government not understand or appreciate that primary care is the gateway to the health system and by continuing to ignore this fact that the system will fail?"

3:50pm - Associate Professor Alex James, from the University of Canterury's School of Mathematics and Statistics, says the data from Te Pūnaha Matatini which shows even if New Zealand reaches a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 80 percent, there would still be 60,000 hospitalisations and 7000 deaths per year, without restrictions is the "absolute worst case scenario".

"The doom and gloom presented here assumes a return to the full comforts of level 1 with only minimal reductions in transmission due to contact tracing. It's also unclear whether children spread the virus like adults do and this can have a huge effect on outcomes.

"It's possible to take a more optimistic approach, in particular looking at countries like Denmark that have more realistic and achievable levels of vaccination. Some reasonable precautions like sensible use of masks and good ventilation could significantly reduce spread but still allow businesses including tourism to operate, schools to be open and for people to socialise while keeping case numbers low. This would give time for the risks and benefits of vaccinating children to be considered.

"It's a no-brainer that we want as many eligible people to be vaccinated as possible but it will take a lot of consideration before we can widen our eligibility criteria."

Professor John Hopkins, a professor of Law specialising in Law and Disasters from University of Canterbury, commented that the data "is not a suprise".

He said evidence from Singapore shows that even if a country has high vaccination rates, there will still be significant hospitalisations from COVID-19 without continued restrictions.

"Even there, where vaccination rates are over 80 percent of the total population, continued social restrictions (equivalent to our L2) have not stopped a rapid rise in cases and concerning levels of hospitalisation, in wake of an easing of border restrictions," he said. 

"Given that one of New Zealand’s key vulnerabilities remains its chronically underfunded health sector and its lack of ICU capacity it is difficult to see how, even with high levels of vaccination, hospitalisations will be kept at a manageable level without significant and ongoing legal restrictions around social interactions, once border restrictions ease. The fact that the penalties for breaching those restrictions have recently been increased suggests that Government is very well aware of this."

3:20pm - Police in Australia's second-largest city of Melbourne prepared for a fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday after more than 200 arrests a day earlier, while COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record. 

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the city of 5 million since officials earlier this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus. 

Read the fully story here.

2:50pm - Shaun Hendy says a vaccination rate of "well over" 90 percent of over 12s or into the 5-11 age group would help to control Delta, but some restrictions would need to remain. 

"The modelling tells us that for Delta, population immunity is still out of reach by vaccination alone," Prof Hendy, who advises the Government on COVID-19, said on Thursday as the Te Pūnaha Matatini data was unveiled. 

It's also essential to achieve high vaccination rates not just nationally, but also in specific communities including Māori and Pasifika populations.

"The results here demonstrate the considerable benefits of achieving high vaccination coverage in the coming months," says Prof Hendy. 

"The message from the modelling is that COVID-19 is going to continue to disrupt our lives for some time yet, but that we can minimise that disruption by ensuring we all get vaccinated.

"There is no magic threshold for vaccination coverage. But the higher the coverage, the less restrictions we will need in coming years. And most importantly, we need every community to be well covered by vaccination. 

"We can't afford to leave anyone behind."

Read the full story here.

Shaun Hendy.
Shaun Hendy. Photo credit: Getty Images

2:23pm - COVID-19 modeller Shaun Hendy, speaking earlier at the daily coronavirus press conference, believes alert level 4 restrictions still may be needed to contain the virus in the future.

"We can still experience 60,000 hospitalisations from COVID-19 in a one-year period and 7000 fatalities," he told reporters. 

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

2:10pm - Another managed isolation facility will open in Christchurch, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed.

"I have approved and Cabinet is in the final stages of signing off The Quality Hotel Elms in Christchurch as a new managed isolation facility," he says.

"We want to assure Kiwis overseas that we are doing everything we can to facilitate their safe return. The new hotel will result in 85 more rooms for returnees and brings the numbers of facilities in the network to 32.

"Before hotels are added to the network they must meet a rigorous safety, public health and staffing criteria."

1:50pm - Dr Bloomfield was asked about reports patched gang members visited Middlemore Hospital earlier this week, forcing several staffers into isolation.

"There were a couple of individuals, one of whom was actually a close contact and should have been isolating, visiting someone else in the hospital who was also a close contact," Dr Bloomfield told reporters. "Four staff have been stood down, as well as a couple of security guards. The visitor has now returned a first negative test but of course the appropriate response has been undertaken.

"It just reiterates the importance of anyone who is a close contact does need to be isolating."

Asked to confirm the visitor was a patched gang member, Dr Bloomfield said: "I don't have that information."

1:46pm - Dr Bloomfield notes the health system will still need good contact tracing systems in place even with a high COVID-19 vaccination rate.

1:41pm - PM Ardern notes she received COVID-19 modelling "much, much" worse at the start of the pandemic, compared with the data revealed on Thursday.

1:33pm - Hendy tells reporters New Zealand's COVID-19 contact tracing system can continue operating efficiently if we maintain a low number of cases. 

1:26pm - In his new study, disease modeller Shaun Hendy says a COVID-19 vaccination rate of over 90 percent would help to control the Delta variant but some restrictions would need to remain.

You can read more about the Te Pūnaha Matatini study here.

1:22pm - Thursday's COVID-19 data by the numbers:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

1:18pm - Ardern outlines a set of COVID-19 principles the Government is working to. They include undertaking work on a vaccine and aggressively isolating cases.

1:14pm - PM Ardern is speaking again now. She says the COVID-19 vaccine alone may not be enough and the virus could still overwhelm the health system.

She says mask use, isolating cases, vaccine passports could all be used as tools in future.

"We can control it and there is reason for optimism," she tells reporters.

1:13pm - Hendy says the study shows COVID-19 will continue to disrupt our lives for some time yet.

He says every communitu needs tp be covered well by vaccination.

1:12pm - If we were to get to 90 percent-plus COVID-19 vaccine coverage, COVID could become less troublesome than seasonal flu with mild border controls, Hendy says.

1:09pm - Hendy is speaking now. He emphasises his research is just a modelling study, but it tells us we could have population immunity at above 90 percent - which means the virus won't be able to find many people to attach to.

1:08pm - Ardern introduces COVID-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy, who has undertaken research showing even if New Zealand reaches a vaccination rate of 80 percent, there would still be 60,000 hospitalisations and 7000 deaths per year.

You can read more about that here.

1:07pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is speaking now. She reiterates the more people vaccinated against COVID-19, the fewer restrictions New Zealand will live with.

1:05pm - Dr Bloomfield says there are currently 15 COVID-19 patients in hospital, three of whom are in intensive care.

He says 19,000 COVID-19 tests were processed on Wednesday.

Dr Bloomfield says 37,000 essential workers have been tested for COVID-19 in Auckland since the start of this month.

1:03pm - There are 15 new cases of COVID-19, all in Auckland Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirms.

New Zealand's Delta outbreal total stands at 1123, with 861 now recovered.

Dr Bloomfield says of Thursday's COVID-19 cases, the majority are household cases and only three remain unlinked to the original Delta outbreak.

12:54pm - Multiple new COVID-19 locations of interest have been added to the Ministry of Health's list on Thursday, including a service station.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

12:28pm - At 1pm, COVID-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy will join Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield at the daily coronavirus press conference. You'll be able to watch that live on Three and in the video above.

12:25pm - The race is on to get 90 percent of eligible Aucklanders vaccinated against COVID-19 in less than two weeks. The city is already at 80 percent but those on the ground say the next 10 percent will be more challenging and will take some creative thinking.

Rowan Quinn of RNZ reports.

12:07pm - US authorities have authorised a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for those aged 65 and older and some high-risk Americans.

The booster dose is to be administered at least six months after completion of the second dose, and the authorisation would include people most susceptible to severe disease and those in jobs that left them at risk, officials said.

Some countries, including Israel and the UK, have already rolled out COVID-19 booster campaigns.


11:54am - Federated Farmers is praising the Government for its handling of the movement of essential workers between Auckland and greater New Zealand.

"With Auckland now at alert level 3 and access to takeaways resumed, there are still essential workers having to cross alert level boundaries south and north of Auckland. Many of them work in or with the primary industries - farmers, vets, stock transporters and food processors to name a few," employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

"The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, with the Ministry for Primary Industries, have made the process seamless and sensible.

"Hats off to them."

11:47am - Real Estate firm Century 21 says Auckland home buyers and sellers are already back into action under COVID-19 alert level 3.

"Under level 3 real estate activity in our country's largest city has quickly reawakened," Century 21 New Zealand owner Tim Kearins says.

"We're seeing some pent-up demand now being unleashed around Auckland. Our offices there report both very strong buyer demand and prices.

"Lower alert levels not only make the likes of physical viewings possible but buyers become more comfortable and confident in making decisions."

11:35am - Across the Tasman, Australia's Victoria has reported 766 community cases of COVID-19 - the most infections it's ever recorded in a single day.

10:55am - Protesters demonstrating against the Three Waters reform programme have been booted from Nelson City Council's offices over social distancing concerns.

"Staff were put at risk by people not physically distancing and not wearing masks. Therefore a decision was made to temporarily close the doors to prevent further people entering the building," council chief executive Pat Dougherty says in a statement.

"I received their petition and that was presented as part of the council meeting but I urge the public to remember that under Delta alert level 2, we have strict limits on the numbers of people that can be in our customer service centre and our council chamber."

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23
Photo credit: Ross Wearing/Newshub.

10:32am - Anti-vaccination protesters from controversial group Voices For Freedom were demonstrating outside Hutt Valley's Taita College on Thursday trying to stop students from getting the jab.

The school is vaccinating its students this week.

Taita College principal Karen Morgan told RNZ's Morning Report pupils won't be deterred by the demonstrators.

"We're feeling good," she says. "We've got such an amazing team here of such dedicated staff. Our students are incredible and we've got a wonderful community so we've got this - it's just a shame that this has to happen at times.

"Obviously, for us, student safety was a priority and it always is a priority for us here at school, and also staff safety and community safety so once we knew they [the protesters] were planning to attend we ensured that we had the police onside and that they would be here with a presence."

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 23
Photo credit: Seni Iasona/Newshub.

10:17am - Police officers in the Canadian province of Quebec are searching for a man they suspect of punching a nurse in the face for giving his wife a COVID-19 vaccine without his consent.

The man confronted the female nurse on Monday morning (local time) in the office of a pharmacy in the city of Sherbrooke where she was assigned to administer vaccines, police said. The man appeared to be very shocked his wife was vaccinated at the pharmacy "without his authorisation", and hit the nurse in the face.


10:14am - Across the Tasman, police in Melbourne arrested more than 200 people after projectiles thrown by protesters injured two officers on Wednesday, the third consecutive day of demonstrations against COVID-19 curbs.

Golf balls, batteries and bottles were among the items thrown at police during the protests held in defiance of stay-at home orders after a two-week closure of building sites to rein in infections, which rose again in the state of Victoria.

Victoria recorded 628 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the year's biggest one-day rise.


10:11am - An employment law expert believes if Parliament's Speaker does ban people unvaccinated against COVID-19 from the precinct, it could set a precedent for other workplaces.

The revelation the tough rules are being considered by Parliament's top brass came as a surprise to many.

Katie Scotcher of RNZ reports.

10:08am - In other COVID-19 news from around the world, the US has announced it will reopen in November to air travellers from 33 countries including China, India, Brazil and most of Europe who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, easing tough pandemic-related restrictions that started early last year.

Restrictions on non-US citizens were first imposed on air travellers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries.


10am - Top medical experts have been recruited to the country's future health system - Health New Zealand.

Health New Zealand will bring together the 20 district health boards to deliver system plans and targeted services.

Peeni Henare says the entity will work closely with the Māori Health Authority.

"This marks a significant milestone in progress towards a more equitable health system," says Henare, the Associate Health Minister. 

"The new Māori Health Authority will be a gamechanger for our people. It will grow kaupapa Māori services... in a new system focused on improving the disproportionate health outcomes that have long affected our whanau."

9:55am - Severe COVID-19 may trick the immune system into producing so-called autoantibodies that have the potential to eventually attack healthy tissue and cause inflammatory diseases, researchers warned in a paper published in Nature Communications.

The researchers from the US' Stanford University found autoantibodies in blood samples from roughly 50 percent of 147 COVID-19 patients they studied, but in fewer than 15 percent of 41 healthy volunteers.

For 48 COVID-19 patients, the researchers had blood samples taken over different days, including the day of hospital admission, allowing them to track the development of the autoantibodies. 


9:30am - While returnees have been vying with international sports players for coveted spots in managed isolation (MIQ), documents sourced by RNZ show Government ministers pressed for a dedicated, bespoke sports MIQ hotel.

The idea was shot down by officials who looked at options in Queenstown, then Rotorua and Wellington in February, and each time found a shortage of resources - and a risk of public backlash.

Katie Todd of RNZ reports.

9am - Age Concern believes COVID-19 fear and apprehension is keeping the elderly indoors.

"One of the things we've noticed especially in this most recent lockdown is the levels of fear and anxiety are far higher," spokesman Kevin Lamb told Newshub. "They're worried around the fact that the Delta variant is so much more virulent - so people are quite keen to stay at home."

8:40am -  An expert group has been appointed to lead the country's future health system, to be known as Health New Zealand.

Health New Zealand will bring together the country's 20 district health boards and host a workforce of 80,000. The Māori Health Authority will also work in partnership with the new body.

"This Government is building a truly national health system to provide consistent, high-quality health services right across the country," Health Minister Andrew Little says. "This is another step towards fixing the health system so it works for everyone.

"The future health system will mean New Zealanders will be able to have equitable access to healthcare to live longer, with the best possible quality of life, no matter who they are or where they live."

8:10am - A leading immunologist is blasting a minority of people spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and had a message for those peddling it.

"This virus is bad and the virus will find you," said Malaghan Institute of Medical Research Professor Graham Le Gros.

"We need to find the barriers - the barriers are misinformation," he told Newstalk ZB.

"The barriers are some people are just not engaged with the mainstream politics - we need to talk to those people." 

8:02am - Several-hundred border workers are still yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The NZ Herald reported, citing Ministry of Health data, that 485 border workers - New Zealand's first line of defence - haven't had a single dose of the vaccine.

But 96 percent of border workers have had at least one dose. 

7:54am - Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare fears if ethnic disparities in the vaccine rollout aren't solved, the consequences will be further inequities down the line. 

Māori are trailing other groups when it comes to getting vaccinated. While a number of reasons for this have been put forward - an inequitable health system and suspicion of authority among them - if it's not fixed, Henare fears Māori will have even less access to services in the future.

"We know that there are those communities like the Māori and Pacific communities whose rates are so low, that we've got a particular job to get them even higher than where they are now," Henare told The AM Show on Thursday. 

"The numbers have improved significantly over the past six weeks, but we know that if we look towards the future and what more freedoms might look like, we have to throw the kitchen sink at every effort to make sure those communities have access to the vaccine and more importantly, uptake the vaccine."

7:47am - England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty says COVID-19 transmission in the country is currently highest in 12- to 15-year-olds and that almost all unvaccinated children would get infected at some point.

Click here for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from around the world.

7:32am - There's a mountain of work ahead for officials desperately trying to get New Zealand vaccinated against COVID-19, Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare says.

Vaccine buses are being driven into communities with lower uptake of the jab and Henare told The AM Show it's proof  the Government is taking the Delta variant very seriously.

"We need everyone in the country to get the vaccine," he said. That's why if we look towards those groups that are lagging behind, it is predominantly based on ethnicity. But we also know there's a challenge in the rural sector as well. 

"Also as we come online with the 12-plus and for those at school, we know that there's a challenge there... We have kaupapa that are taking buses into those hard-to-reach areas. But the only thing I can say to everybody out there is make yourself available to the vaccine."

7:17am - Hauraki District Mayor Toby Adams is priasing residents for sticking to the COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

The area has joined Auckland at alert level 3 with no new cases emerging in the past couple of days. It was placed under temporary level 4 restrictions after three people in the household of an infected prisoner on bail tested positive for COVID-19.

Adams says as soon as a positive case was found in the area, residents flocked to COVID-19 testing stations.

"As soon as you hear about it in your area, and particularly a small, rural area like ours, they're quick to react," he told Newshub.

7:08am - The Government is conceding there's still a long way to go to get COVID-19 vaccination rates up. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield admitted on Wednesday New Zealand may never get back to zero cases of COVID-19.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare says that's why getting jabs in arms is so important.

"The message here is that we know that there are those communities like the Māori and Pacific communities whose rates are so low, that we've got a particular job to get them even higher than where they are now," he told The AM Show. "The numbers have improved significantly over the past six weeks, but we know that if we look towards the future and what more freedoms might look like, we have to throw the kitchen sink at every effort to make sure those communities have access to the vaccine and more importantly, uptake the vaccine."

7am - The hospitality industry is calling for extra funding from the Government as part of a "road map to recovery" for struggling businesses.

It's estimated there's been a net loss of more than 1000 New Zealand hospitality businesses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic - representing about 13,000 jobs.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois says it's been a long 18 months.

"It's an accumulative effect," she told The AM Show. "The last 18 months have been very challenging for so many of our businesses."

6:50am - Coming up: Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare provides the latest COVID-19 updates on The AM Show. Watch live on Three or by clicking here.

6:45am - The Government is thinking about a "no jab, no job" policy for health workers.

It wants to make it compulsory for all health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with only 75 percent of the 80,000-strong workforce fully immunised - despite being eligible for the past six months.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said part of the sector needs a push in the right direction and the move would follow countries including Australia, the US, UK and Canada.