The Ministry of Health is "closely watching" the emerging developments around the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant.
It comes as countries around the world take action to try and contain its spread from southern Africa, including by barring flights from South Africa and other nations in the region.
Auckland is spending its final weekend at alert level 3 before heading into the new traffic light system along with the rest of the country at 11:59 pm on Thursday.
This is the last weekend you can fully vaccinated in time for Christmas with a number of pop up vaccination centres open across the city. Click here for more details.
What you need to know
There were 145 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Saturday - 127 in Auckland, 13 in Waikato, four in Bay of Plenty, and one in Canterbury.
- Seventy-seven people are in hospital, eight of whom are in intensive care or high dependency units.
- The World Health Organization has dubbed the new variant 'Omicron', and it's since been found in Belgium and Hong Kong. Many countries are now barring flights from southern Africa.
- The Ministry of Health in New Zealand is "closely watching" the situation.
Auckland's border will open on December 15, allowing fully vaccinated Kiwis to travel to and from the region - people can also present a negative test received within 72 hours prior to departure.
All of New Zealand will move to the traffic light system on December 2 at 11:59pm.
Workers covered by the My Vaccine Pass mandate - staff working at businesses that are required to use vaccine certificates to operate - must have their first jab by Dec 3 and be fully vaccinated by Jan 17.
New Zealand's international borders will begin to reopen from January - from January 17 fully vaccinated Kiwis can return home from Australia without MIQ.
Keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest here.
These live updates have now finished.
2:40pm - A Kiwi epidemiologist is urging calm over the emergence of the 'Omicron' variant of COVID-19, saying there's no solid proof it's as bad as the headlines would have us believe - yet.
"This variant caused alarm amongst virologists because it has a very large number of mutations - more than 50 - and some of these mutations affect the structure of the spike protein, which is so important for the effectiveness of vaccines," epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newshub Nation on Saturday.
"The other factor is it appeared to be outcompeting the Delta variant in an area of South Africa. That really means it's tipping the balance into this category of 'variant of concern'."
Dr Baker said while it seems likely Omicron is more infectious than Delta - which was already twice as catchy as the original SARS-CoV-2 virus - that might not be the case.
2:05pm - There are a number of new locations of interest:
- Gold Star Bakery Patrick's Pies Mangakakahi - Thursday, November 18 between 6:03am and 7:28am
- McDonalds Te Ngae - Friday, November 19 between 7am and 8:20am
1:45pm - Here are more details from the Ministry of Health:
Today we are announcing new community cases in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Canterbury.
The two cases we’re reporting in Northland today came in after our 9am cut off and will be officially added to the case numbers tomorrow.
The case we’re reporting in Canterbury was announced in yesterday’s statement but, as indicated, is being officially added to the case numbers today.
There are no additional cases to report today in Wairarapa, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, MidCentral, Lakes or Taranaki.
One previously reported border case has been reclassified as under investigation so today’s net increase is 148 cases.
Information on today’s cases is included in the regional updates below. Anyone living in these areas, or elsewhere in New Zealand, with symptoms, no matter how mild, is urged to get tested – even if they are vaccinated – and remain isolated until they return a negative result. A full list of testing centres can be found on the Healthpoint website.
Death of a patient at Auckland City Hospital
Sadly today we are reporting the death of a patient with COVID-19 at Auckland City Hospital.
The patient, who was in their 80s, was admitted to hospital on 17 November.
Our thoughts are with their whânau and friends at this very sad time.
Today we are reporting one person in Rotorua Hospital’s ICU. This is the same person we had been reporting earlier in the week. They were mistakenly not included in yesterday’s numbers.
We have made a small update to our reporting of the vaccination status of current hospitalisations in the northern region wards. This is because advice from the Covid-19 Vaccine Technical Advisory Group, based on the most up-to-date evidence, the period of time required to be classified as fully immunised has been amended to 7 days (as opposed to 14 days).
NZ COVID Tracer App
Poster scans have reached a record.
3,223,695 poster scans were uploaded in the period between 1pm on Thursday and 10.50am yesterday.
This is an incredible effort and the Ministry wants to reiterate its thanks to everyone who scanned in using their device yesterday, and to everyone who continues to scan in.
We encourage all New Zealanders to keep a record of where they have been. Use of the NZ COVID Tracer app or a manual diary remain critical tools in helping to speed up our contact tracing efforts and stop the spread of the virus.
We’re asking anyone in the following regions with symptoms – no matter how mild – to please get tested, even if you’re vaccinated. Please remain isolated until you return a negative test result. And if you’re not vaccinated, your DHB or local health provider will have plenty of opportunities to make this happen.
There are two new cases to report in Ruakaka today. These were reported after our 9am cut-off and will be officially added to the case numbers tomorrow.
In addition, a case previously reported in Auckland has been reclassified as a Northland case. They are currently isolating in Kaikohe.
The two new cases in Ruakaka are linked to an existing case and have been isolating.
Anyone in Ruakaka with symptoms – no matter how mild – is encouraged to get a test. A pop-up testing site is continuing to operate at the Ruakaka Racecourse over the weekend and is open at the following times:
· 9am-3pm Saturday
· 10am-2pm Sunday
Testing and vaccination sites open in Northland can be found on the Northland DHB website.
New locations of interest in Northland continue to be added to the Ministry website
Today, there are 127 new cases to report in Auckland.
There continues to be daily reviews of testing numbers and testing locations to ensure good coverage of risk areas.
The Tauhoa Pop-up Community Testing Centre in North Kaipara is open from 2pm to 7pm today, with vaccinations available, at Tauhoa Community Hall (opposite the school).
Health staff are now supporting 3,993 people to isolate at home, including 1,078 cases.
There are 13 new cases to report in Waikato today - six are in Te Kūiti, three in Huntly, two in Hamilton, one in Te Kauwhata, and one in Ōtorohanga. All are under investigation for links to previous cases.
There are six pop-up and dedicated testing sites operating across Waikato today in Hamilton, Ōtorohanga, Thames, Huntly, and Te Kûiti. For more information, visit the DHB’s website.
Health staff in the region are now supporting 128 cases to isolate at home.
This weekend in the Waikato there is a big push to encourage unvaccinated Māori to get their jab. The ‘Weekend wero’ will encouraging kaumatua and their whānau to get vaccinated together. People can go to around 25 events across the takiwā this weekend without a booking.
Across the different locations there will be free food, entertainment, spot prizes and more.
Bay of Plenty
Today we are reporting four new cases today in Bay of Plenty. All four have been linked to previously confirmed cases.
One case is based in Kawerau, one is in Tauranga and two are in Te Puke.
The person based in Kawerau is a close contact of a previously confirmed case, and has been in isolation for the past week.
Investigations are continuing and while public health staff don’t expect a large number of locations of interest as a result, if and when they’re identified, they will be added to the Ministry of Health’s website. This is updated regularly.
Bay of Plenty DHB is opening a pop up testing site from tomorrow at Waitaha Hauora/Nga Kakano Family Health Services at the Sikh Temple in Te Puke.
The DHB has also been working with local providers in Kawerau to provide more testing capacity for the town. Additional testing is available today until 6pm and again from 10 until 6 tomorrow at the Te Puna Ora o Mataatua, Ron Hardie Recreation Centre carpark in Kawerau.
Please check the DHB’s website for further details.
Two of the three other cases are also close contacts of previously confirmed cases and have been in isolation.
Public health staff want to reiterate the message to Bay of Plenty locals to get tested if you’re feeling unwell and get your first dose of the vaccine if you haven’t already.
Details of testing stations in Bay of Plenty can be found on the Healthpoint website.
1:40pm - There are 145 new community cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand and one person has died. Of the cases, 127 are in Auckland, 13 in Waikato, four in Bay of Plenty and one in Canterbury.
The Ministry of Health has also provided this statement about Omicron:
"Health officials are currently assessing the latest international information on the new B.1.1529 variant which the World Health Organization has named Omicron.
"This particular strain is in its infancy and as with any emerging developments to do with COVID-19 we are closely watching and monitoring evidence and countries’ responses.
"We will advise on any potential impacts for New Zealand, noting that we remain in a good position to minimise the impact of any new variants with isolation and routine testing of international arrivals."
|COVID-19 vaccine update|
|Total first and second vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people)||7,441,877: 3,872,472 first doses (92%); 3,569,405 second doses (85%)|
|Total first and second vaccines administered yesterday||17,899: 5,679 first doses; 12,222 second doses|
|Māori (percentage of eligible people)||842,868: 462,493 first doses (81%); 380,375 second doses (67%)|
|Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people)||489,001: 258,825 first doses (90%); 230,176 second doses (80%)|
|Total first and second vaccines administered to Auckland residents yesterday||6,058: 1,058 first doses; 5,000 second doses|
|Vaccination rates by DHB (with active cases)|
|Northland DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (85%); second doses (75%)|
|Auckland Metro DHBs (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (94%); second doses (88%)|
|Waikato DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (91%); second doses (83%)|
|Canterbury DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (95%); second doses (87%)|
|Lakes DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (87%); second doses (78%)|
|MidCentral DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (92%); second doses (83%)|
|Bay of Plenty DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (89%); second doses (80%)|
|Wairarapa DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (92%); second doses (83%)|
|Capital and Coast DHB (percentage of eligible people)||First doses (95%); second doses (90%)|
|Cases in hospital||77. North Shore (14); Middlemore (28); Auckland (31); Waikato (3); Rotorua (1)|
|Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only as of 26 November)||Unvaccinated or not eligible (40 cases / 56%); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (17 cases / 24%); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (10 cases / 14%); unknown (5 cases / 7%)|
|Average age of current hospitalisations||48|
|Cases in ICU or HDU||Eight (7 in Auckland, 1 in Lakes)|
|Seven day rolling average of community cases||183|
|Number of new community cases||145|
|Number of new cases identified at the border||Four|
|**Location of new community cases||Auckland (127), Waikato (13), Bay of Plenty (4), Canterbury (1)|
|Location of community cases (total)||Northland 75 (39 of whom have recovered); Auckland 7,366 (2,298 of whom have recovered); Waikato 420 (128 of whom have recovered); Bay of Plenty 44; Lakes 26; Taranaki 6 (all of whom have recovered); MidCentral 5 (1 has recovered); Wairarapa 3; Wellington 18 (17 of whom have recovered); Nelson/Marlborough 1 (recovered); Canterbury 9 (4 of whom have recovered);|
|Number of community cases (total)||7,975 (in current community outbreak)|
|Confirmed cases (total)||10,746|
|Historical cases||199 out of 8,940 cases since 1 January|
|Cases infectious in the community||57 cases reported yesterday have exposure events|
|Cases in isolation throughout the period they were infectious||100 cases reported yesterday have no exposure events|
|Cases epidemiologically linked||60 of today’s new cases|
|Cases to be epidemiologically linked||85 of today’s new cases|
|Cases epidemiologically linked (total)||5,986 (928 unlinked in the last 14 days)|
|Number of active contacts being managed (total):||6,624|
|Percentage who have received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements)||64%|
|Percentage who have returned at least one result||70%|
|Locations of interest|
|Locations of interest (total)||174 (as at 10am 27 November)|
|Number of tests (total)||4,843,960|
|Number of tests total (last 24 hours)||31,621|
|Tests processed in Auckland (last 24 hours)||13,011|
|Tests rolling average (last 7 days)||29,870|
|Testing centres in Auckland|
|Wastewater detections||No unexpected detections|
|NZ COVID Tracer|
|Registered users (total)||3,411,515|
|Poster scans (total)||538,820,241|
|Manual diary entries (total)||20,794,668|
|Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday||3,223,695|
1:35pm - The protest outside Government House in Auckland has swelled to about 400 people over the last two hours. Mountain Rd is currently blocked by the protesters and police are at the scene.
Demonstrators have a number of messages, ranging from opposition to vaccine mandates to being pro-vaccination.
Auckland Transport says a bus route has to be diverted.
1:15pm - Dutch health authorities said that dozens of people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday are likely infected with COVID-19, and they are conducting further testing to see if people are infected with the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant.
Around 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over the new virus variant. On the basis of initial testing, the Dutch health ministry estimated there may be around 85 positive cases among the passengers.
"Travelers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol," health authorities said in a statement.
"Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named 'Omicron'."
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday.
12:55pm - Australia's 7News is reporting it understands Australia will make changes to travel restrictions in the face of the new COVID-19 variant. It's said that anyone who has been to South Africa in the last 14 days will face a form of isolation.
12:50pm - The World Trade Organization (WTO) became the first major diplomatic casualty of the new coronavirus variant on Friday when it postponed its first ministerial meeting in four years due to the deteriorating health situation.
Ministers from WTO members were due to have gathered next week for a meeting widely seen as a test of the WTO's relevance.
The WTO said that its members had agreed late on Friday to postpone the ministerial conference after the new variant outbreak led to travel restrictions that would have prevented many ministers from reaching Geneva.
No new date has been set for a rescheduled meeting.
12:40pm - The Ministry of Health has announced one new location of interest at 12pm.
The location is Gold Star Bakery Patrick's pies Mangakakahi in Rotorua.
To look at all the locations of interest click here.
12:35pm - There will be no press conference at 1pm today. The Ministry of Health will instead release a statement with the latest updates.
12:15pm - COVID-19 is having a resurgence in Europe with countires heading back into lockdown just before Christmas.
In Denmark, the country's health minister said the government was seeking to re-introduce masking on public transport, in stores and would also accelerate a booster vaccine programme after a surge in cases.
In Portugal, where nurses were previously talking about running out of people to vaccinate, they're bringing back measures in the face of rising infections.
The Netherlands, where nearly 85 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, is back in a form of lockdown with restaurants closed past a certain time.
So what lessons can New Zealand learn before we loosen restrictions?
Read the full story here.
11:50am - Professor Michael Baker told Newshub Nation on Saturday that Omicron - the new variant of COVID-19 - could force the Government to rethink its border reopening plans.
"This variant caused alarm amongst virologists because it has a very large number of mutations, and some of these mutations affect the structure of the spike protein, which is so important for the effectiveness of vaccin
"It could mean a change. One of the huge benefits New Zealand has compared with most countries in the world is we can manage our borders if we need to… If we have to turn down the tap to manage this threat more cautiously, yes, that could reduce the volume of people coming into New Zealand...
Read the full story here.
11:15am - A group of anti-vaxxers have gathered outside Government House in Epsom in Auckland to protest about the Government's vaccine mandates on Saturday morning.
So far only around 20 people are there with signs saying "God's children are not lab rats. No experimental vaccines" while another sign says, "No vax passports."
11:05am - ACT Party leader David Seymour says New Zealanders need "calm and clarity" from the Government after the World Health Organisation labelled the new variant of COVID-19 as "Omicron".
Seymour wants the Government to reassure the public that they will continue on with the new COVID Protect Framework - also known as the Traffic Light System.
"New Zealand is finally, finally, on a path to getting our way of life back," Seymour says. "Vaccination rates are high, modelling shows the hospital system can handle opening up under Delta, we know when things will happen even if very late.
"More than anything, we need to preserve clarity in the Government's response as this new variant emerges, with lots for us to learn.
"Omicron has only been known for a couple of weeks and is detected in a country with poor public health where only 24 per cent are fully vaccinated.
"It should also give reassurance that it will continue with its plan of moving to the COVID protection framework and opening borders. It should then start upgrading its overall COVID response, because this variant won't be the last.
"The Government also needs to be honest and real. This new variant exists, and it's only a matter of time before it reaches our shores, whatever we do. We cannot afford, given the pressures on the workforce, many industries, and cost of living, to do any more debt-supported national isolation."
10:35am - The new variant of COVID-19 known as "Omicron" is forcing sports in South Africa to shut down.
With countries enforcing travel bans, rugby teams and golfers are scrambling to try and leave the African region.
Rugby teams scheduled to play in South Africa at the weekend and golfers competing in a European Tour event in Johannesburg are under threat of harsh quarantine arrangements as Britain, United States and countries in the European Union impose travel bans.
Read the full story here.
10:20am - Robertson told Newshub Nation on Saturday that it's fine for businesses to employ single-jabbed people even whilst only letting in double-vaccinated people, at least in the short-term, before the January 17 deadline.
The January 17 deadline applies to hospitality, events, gatherings, close contact businesses and gyms who need their employees fully vaccinated.
"People are employed. We want them to be able to work. And if they have agreed to get vaccinated, that's the process we want them to be in."
Robertson said it would be up to the Commissioner of Police to decide if businesses would be forced to let in police officers who aren't double-jabbed.
"That will be entirely up to the Commissioner of Police there. The Government doesn't manage the way that he deploys his resources. "
Read the full article here.
10:05am - Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Newshub Nation that businesses that lose customers because they refuse to use vaccine passes shouldn't qualify for financial help.
Robertson said if the likes of gyms, hairdressers and hospitality venues don't use the My Vaccine Pass and lose customers or have to close, he doesn't think they should be propped up by the taxpayer.
"I've made clear that personally, I don't think if, for example, we're using the revenue drop test for any support that we give, that we should reward people who don't use vaccine certificates and that causes the revenue drop. So that's the view that I've taken."
Read the full story here.
9:15am - The United States have announced they will restrict travel for non-US citizens from eight African countries starting on Monday (local time).
The ban is part of a global effort to stem the spread of the heavily mutated 'Omicron' variant of COVID-19, according to senior Biden administration officials.
The new variant of COVID-19 was found in southern Africa with the World Health Organisation, dubbing it 'Omicron'.
The eight countries include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
There was no indication Friday of how long the bans will remain in place, but President Joe Biden said in a statement that moving forward he will be "guided by what the science and my medical team advises."
7:50am - The World Health Organization has named the new variant discovered in South Africa - skipping over the widely expected 'Nu' and going for 'Omicron'.
Early data on Omicron appears it could be five times more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19 - Delta is only twice as infectious. Several countries have slammed their borders shut.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker will be on Newshub Nation at 9:30am to talk about Omicron, followed by an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.
7:40am - It's the last weekend to get fully vaccinated in time for Christmas, with more than 20 festive events happening across the city.
"With just 29 days to go, this is the last weekend for people to ensure they can be fully vaccinated for Christmas, so Tāmaki Makaurau is once again turning it on with vaccination events right across the city," a spokesperson for the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) said on Friday.
All community vaccination centres are open for walk-ins for first and second doses, with a large number of festive pop-up events to encourage uptake.
At the 'All I Want for Christmas is My 2 Vaccines' event in Manurewa, the first 200 cars that turn up on Saturday and on Sunday will receive a free Christmas hamper.
There will be live entertainment, free hotdogs and sports gear giveaways over in Ōtara at the Cook Island Sports Collective event on Saturday.
Twenty-five Catholic churches are also coming together for a big pop-up event in Māngere, involving youth groups and 120 volunteers at the Maeola Community Centre.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei will be at a Waka Ama event in Mt Wellington.
NRHCC vaccination programme director Matt Hannant says with the Auckland border opening up on December 15, people will be counting down the days until they can be reunited with whānau for Christmas.
"Let's make this Christmas as safe as possible for our loved ones by getting both doses in time for the festivities. This is the last weekend to ensure that you'll be fully vaccinated before the holiday season.
"If it's been more than three weeks since your first dose, now is the time to get your second, so you can make the most of getting out and about with a vaccine pass from next Friday."
Hannant says there are plenty of opportunities for people to go out and get vaccinated this weekend, with a number of pop-up events happening all over the city. They include:
St Mary's Church Campervan and Drive-through - Sun 28 Nov, 8am - 11:30am, 2134 Gt North Road, Avondale
Avondale Community Fale - Sun 28 Nov, 12:30pm - 4pm, 59 Rosebank Road, Avondale
Glenvon Community Hub - Sat 27th, 12:30pm - 4pm, 340 Blockhouse Bay Road, Avondale
Niuean 3rd Event - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 5pm, LDS Church, 15 Robertson Road Chapel, Māngere
Cook Island Sport Collective - Drive-through - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 5pm, 244 East Tamaki Road, Ōtara
Ian Shaw Park - Waka Ama - Sat 27 Nov 9 am - 4pm, Ian Shaw Park, Panama Road, Mt Wellington
LDS Chapel - Lunn Ave - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 1pm, LDS Lunn Ave Chapel, Mt Wellington
Massey Ave Car Park - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 2pm.
The vaccination buses and campervans will be parked up at the following locations:
Papatoetoe New World Campervan - Sat 27 Nov, 11am - 1pm, 65 Saint George Street, Papatoetoe
All I want for Christmas is my 2 Vaccines (Bus) - Drive-through - Sat 27: 9am - 6pm, Sun 28: 12pm - 8pm, Northcrest Carpark, Manurewa Town Centre
Round 2 - Free Church of Tonga (Bus) - Sat 27 Nov, 8:30-5pm, 47 Favona Rd, Māngere
Rosebank Campervan and Drive-through - Sat 27 Nov, 8am-11:30am, 93-123 Riverdale Road, Avondale
Avondale Community Gardeners Pop-up (Campervan) - Sat 27 - Sun 28 Nov, 8 am - 4pm
Tokaikolo Church - Pop Up – (Campervan) - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 3pm, 148 Coronation Road, Mangere Bridge
Catholic Church Event (Campervan x2) - Sat 27 Nov, 9am - 4:30pm, 16 Waokauri Place, Māngere
Al Madinah School and Zayad College Campervan - Sat 27 Nov, 10am-4pm, 8 Westney Road
Volante Reserve Campervan - Sat 27 Nov, 1 pm - 3pm, Valante Avenue, Manurewa
Oruawharo Marae (Campervan) - Sat 27 - Sun 28 Nov, 9am - 3pm, 2 Oruawharo School Road, Oruawharo
Volta Park Bus - Sun 28 Nov, 10am - 2:30pm, Volta Park - Templeton Road, Clendon.
People can also walk in at any community vaccination centres this weekend, or head along to one of the 200-plus GP clinics and 130-plus pharmacies delivering vaccinations across Auckland. Full details of opening hours and sites can be found at vaccinateforauckland.nz.
From today, people aged 18 and over who had their second dose at least six months ago can get their booster dose. They can book their appointment online using the Book My Vaccine website or by calling 0800 28 29 26. Boosters will be available at all community vaccination centres, and vaccinating GPs and pharmacies.
Also, people can now pre-book to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is available from Monday, November 29. Here's a link to an interactive map showing the list of vaccination sites across Tāmaki Makaurau that are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine: vaccinateforauckland.nz.