The Government has set the dates for when fully vaccinated New Zealanders can come home without entering managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) on arrival.
From January 17, fully vaccinated Kiwis can travel from Australia without shelling out for a stint in MIQ, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Wednesday. From February 13, fully vaccinated Kiwis can return home from all other countries and bypass MIQ upon entering. Fully vaccinated foreign nations can start arriving from April 30, although this is a tentative date.
International arrivals will still need to self-isolate for seven days at home and present two negative tests for COVID-19 - one on arrival and one before entering the community.
Meanwhile, hair salons are throwing open their doors in Auckland as the stricken city marks its 100th day in lockdown. Hairdressers are the first close-contact business to trial the My Vaccine Pass system ahead of the transition to the COVID-19 Protection Framework on December 3.
What you need to know
- There are 178 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Thursday - 149 in Auckland, 16 in Waikato, two in Northland, nine in Bay of Plenty, one in Lakes and one in MidCentral.
- A patient in their 50s has died at Auckland City Hospital, bringing the death toll to 42.
- Seventy-seven people are in hospital, eight of whom are in intensive care or high dependency units.
- 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.
- Hairdressers are opening their doors in Auckland on Thursday to trial the My Vaccine Pass system.
- 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.
- The Government is investing more than $1b in testing, tracing, investigation and support for cases in the community, with a $300m boost to Pharmac to buy new medicines to treat COVID-19 and wider use and availability of rapid antigen testing in December.
- Keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest here.
These live updates have finished.
7:55pm - National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says amongst "other stuff happening" today - referring to the party's leadership troubles - there has been "massive public policy victories" in the past two days.
"Yesterday MIQ loosening. Today rapid tests at pharmacies. Finally saliva testing. Special fund for COVID treatments. All things I've been banging on about for months," he tweeted on Thursday evening.
"Leaving aside all the other stuff that everyone will focus on today, I am deeply proud of our COVID work in the last few months. We have exposed a lazy government that simply hadn't done a back up plan if elimination failed. We've pushed them into it. This is democracy working.
"Order boosters, I said, and I was accused of undermining developing countries. Then they did it. Helped expose scandalous underuse of saliva testing - now we'll finally get it. Ayesha Verrall mocked for me saying roll out rapid tests - then look at today."
7:25pm - Kiwis on the other side of the world have woken to the news that they will be able to return home to New Zealand without quarantine from February next year.
But while it is a welcome relief for many, it’s too little, too late for most.
"It's freezing, February isn't nice in the UK," Kiwi Jessi Wiggins tells Newshub in London.
And a summer in New Zealand is looking pretty good.
"Really exciting and yeah it hits you hard," Wiggins says in tears.
Because the news of quarantine free flights to New Zealand from February 14th, is of course, about much more.
"My sister is supposed to get married in April and it would be amazing to be back for that, especially since I missed my brother's wedding," Wiggins says.
There are homesick Kiwis in every corner of the world. There are desperate daughters in Sweden, Kiwis in Berlin and a new dad in South America.
6:45pm - Barbers and hairdressers across Auckland could finally reopen their doors after almost four months of no business.
There were a few extra steps for long-haired Aucklanders to follow, including taking part in the trial of vaccine passes ahead of the country moving into the traffic light system next week.
Good News Parlour in Mt Eden opened its doors at 8am for some of the first haircuts in the city.
"Both client and barber are masked, we have a maximum amount of six people in the shop just because we are in quite a small space," Good News Parlour owner Anthony Welsh tells Newshub.
With 14 weeks of growth left on the cutting room floor, there were some very happy customers - even the ones who might not fully admit it.
"A lot of guys don't believe that they care too much about their hair but it's the complete opposite, like they love it," Welsh says.
In Britomart, Ryder Salon went the extra mile, with temperature checks and special air-purifier technology part of their safety plan.
"My first client today walked in looking like something out of the 70s, so we're expecting a bit of that," says Ryder Salon owner Greg Murrell.
6:15pm - There are five new locations of interest. They are:
- Eastside Tavern and TAB, Hamilton East, November 19 from 4:15pm to 6:45pm
- Ruakaka Liquor Centre, Ruakaka, November 20 from 12:15pm to 12:30pm
- Fresh Choice, Ruakaka, November 20 from 12:35pm to 12:50pm
- Huntly Golden Bakery and Cafe, Huntly, November 23 from 9:45am to 10:15am
- Huntly West Pricecutter Huntly, November 23 from 1:40pm to 2:15pm.
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm. You can watch online here or on Three.
5:45pm - The following is an update from Waikato DHB on cases in the region:
There were 16 cases confirmed in the Waikato overnight, with eight in Te Kūiti, five in Huntly, and three in Kāwhia.
All cases have been linked to previous cases.
One case reported yesterday has now been confirmed as from Piopio.
This brings the total number of cases during this Waikato outbreak to 393 (189 active, 205 recovered) with 37 active cases remaining under investigation for links. Today we have had three active cases reclassified as not a case so have been removed from the active total.
There are seven pop-up and dedicated testing sites operating across Waikato today in Hamilton, Ōtorohanga, Thames, Te Kūiti, Huntly and Ngāruawāhia.
Testing is available in Tokoroa today through GPs, with Tokoroa Medical Centre and Tokoroa Family Health both designated practices and not requiring enrolment.
An individual at a Waikato early childhood education centre recently returned a positive test and prompted a public health response which included isolating many children and staff. Further investigations led to a repeat test in the case, which was negative. As such, the case was reclassified as not a case. The case's close contacts have all returned negative results.
The DHB is looking into potential causes for the initial positive result as the required response can be disruptive for those affected individuals, however it is necessary to treat all positive results as active cases. The DHB is grateful to all those involved for their cooperation.
There is one person receiving care for COVID-19 at Waikato Hospital and another COVID-19 positive individual receiving care for a condition not related to COVID-19.
There were 2308 tests processed in the Waikato yesterday and 1857 vaccinations delivered.
In the Waikato region, public health staff are now supporting 144 cases to isolate at home.
5:10pm - Tauranga City Council has cancelled New Year's Eve community celebrations due to COVID-19.
Gareth Wallis, general manager of community services, says the council had reluctantly decided not to host this year's events as there was too much uncertainty around whether it could deliver the community-wide events safely.
They are waiting to learn more about the Government's COVID-19 protection framework and the impact it will have on events over the summer period.
The 2020 free community events were well attended across five sites across the city - Papamoa, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga CBD, Greerton and Matua.
"Unfortunately, with the recent cases of the Delta variant in our community, and uncertainty around how we can safely deliver community events of this size, there is too much risk in continuing to plan these events," Wallis says.
"Given our current environment, this was a decision we and a number of other councils have had to face."
Wallis says the events had grown in popularity over the past five years, but they would be back.
"We love to bring these events and fireworks to our community, and work alongside an incredible group of partners and suppliers to deliver them. We look forward to delivering these celebrations for our community in 2022."
4:30pm - There are some DHBs that are getting very close to hitting the 90 percent first dose milestone.
Hawke's Bay is just 403 first doses away from reaching the first dose goal. Taranaki and Bay of Plenty are both on 89 percent, needing just 1171 and 3160 respective doses to reach 90 percent.
In terms of 90 percent second doses, Auckland DHB is currently the only one that's hit that goal.
But Capital and Coast could be next. It's currently fully vaccinated 89 percent of its eligible population and has just 3023 second doses to go.
Waitematā could then be next in line. It's currently fully vaccinated 88 percent of locals and has 10,997 doses to go.
3:45pm - The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners says it welcomes the investment to increase testing, tracing, and support for managing COVID-19 in the community, but questions what this means for general practitioners working on the frontline and caring for COVID cases in the community.
College president and Wellington GP Dr Samantha Murton says the funding will go a long way in keeping New Zealanders safe and the spread of COVID-19 low, but there are still unanswered questions about how this will work in practice.
Ardern has said that the vast majority of those who get COVID-19 in the future will experience only mild to moderate symptoms and won't require hospital-level care, and that what matters is ensuring these people get the best care and support they can.
"GPs are primarily the first point of contact for community healthcare and will continue to provide a significant amount of this outside of hospital care, acting as a liaison between patients and other health services during the isolation and recovery time," Dr Murton says.
"With COVID making its way down the country and the inevitable increase of home isolation, it is concerning that today's announcement lacked any mention of funding for GPs who are already stretched as they continue to test, swab, vaccinate, and provide BAU care to their non-COVID patients."
With over 4000 people in the Auckland region and over 130 in the Waikato region currently isolating at home, ensuring there is adequate, timely, and appropriate access to this end-to-end support, which includes general practitioners, has never been more crucial. Dr Murton says.
The College's medical director, Dr Bryan Betty, says, they have been calling for a plan on how general practices should prepare for and respond to the management of COVID-19 in the community "for months".
"The clarity provided by Minister Little saying GPs would be notified if a patient tests positive for COVID-19 and the 24-hour timeline for the patient to be contacted and assessed is welcomed and hopefully a step in the right direction for a more cohesive approach to managing COVID-19 in New Zealand," he says.
3:15pm - Destination Queenstown says it is pleased the Government has provided the business community with some much-needed certainty around reconnecting New Zealand with the rest of the world, but believes the wait may be too long to save some local operators.
Destination Queenstown chief executive Paul Abbot says the tourism industry has been pressing for a date to work towards for borders reopening so it is great to finally have a target in sight.
"It has been an incredibly challenging time for the local business community. They have adapted considerably and restructured their business models to keep afloat and keep staff employed. While some have had to go into hibernation, others have had to reluctantly reduce hours and staffing numbers to keep their business running," he says.
"They have persevered and done an admirable job handling various lockdowns and changes in alert levels, the short-lived Australian QFT arrangement, and the changes in operational requirements. However, I am concerned that the border reopening date is too far away and will come too late for some businesses."
When international borders do reopen, all travellers will need to self-isolate for seven days before being able to move around New Zealand.
"The self-isolation requirement is likely to deter international travellers, particularly Australian visitors, who were Queenstown's biggest international market pre-COVID," Abbot says.
"I expect the Australian government will promote and incentivise domestic travel, so when faced with that or coming to New Zealand to self-isolate for a week, the majority are likely to opt for domestic travel."
Since yesterday's announcement, there have been various cancellations of Australian conference and business events for the Queenstown region, Abbot says. This includes several cancellations of confirmed and prospective business events adding up to a value of around $20m to $30m.
"I urge the New Zealand Government to reconsider and remove the self-isolation requirement. Our operators are already facing a bleak Christmas period, and this is likely to further add to their levels of stress and financial hardship," he says.
"We will lose a big chunk of 2022 winter travel if this requirement is in place. We have already faced a lost 2020 winter and the majority of the 2021 winter.
"New Zealand needs tourism for the economy to rebound and recover. It is one of the main pillars of our national economy and accounts for approximately 50% of full-time jobs in the region. By restoring this industry, we can get out of this limbo, return to contributing to the country’s tourism GDP and start moving forward."
2:50pm - Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain has been caught up in a nasty rumour spread by antivaxxers.
The rumour claims he had a severe heart attack following his third dose, or booster dose, of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
But Dr Chamberlain says he hasn't even had his booster jab and the rumour caused great stress for his friends and family.
"When I was first made aware of it was on Monday morning and one of my staff rang me to check I was OK - they'd had contact with someone from Australia who was in the antivax or vaccine-hesitant community," Dr Chamberlain told Newshub on Thursday.
"Apparently, the rumour was going around that I'd had a severe heart attack and was in critical care.
"[The rumour] was linked to me having the third dose of the COVID vaccine which I haven't had yet as the bookings aren't opening until tomorrow."
Dr Chamberlain said he wanted people to know the rumour was completely untrue.
"It is absolutely completely nonsense and I feel very well and I haven't had the third dose, and I certainly haven't been in primary care."
2:25pm - Associate Professor Lynn McBain, the head of the Department of Primary Health and General Practice at the University of Otago, Wellington, has done a small Q&A on home isolation.
The following is courtesy of the Science Media Centre.
How is the home isolation policy working?
Primary health practitioners in parts of the country where there is no or minimal COVID-19 have little practical experience or examples to discuss re COVID home isolation. We are however actively preparing with meetings and discussions at a practice, locality, PHO, DHB, regional and national level.
Many practitioners (I can't speak for everyone) are wishing to be actively involved in the care of their practice patients if those patients are at home with COVID-19. Their knowledge of, and relationship with, the patients and families means that the care is likely to be reassuring to the patient - and also a bit more customised to the known patient needs. Local practices may also know the preferred method of contact for their own patients.
It is difficult to know about numbers / modelling for future community cases given the daily rise in vaccine rates. I am concerned that there will be a steady rise in COVID-19 cases towards the end of December – right at the time when general practices are minimally staffed.
What is your advice for patients isolating at home?
If people are isolating at home - no matter what the size of the home - there is a high chance that others in the home will contract COVID-19. Ensuring high immunisation rates will reduce this risk.
I understand that part of the response for home isolation is a support package which can be customised to the home, again the primary care practice will have a good idea about the household's needs. Personal preparedness includes: planning ahead and thinking about who might shop for a family, or who could drop off other needed supplies.
2:05pm - Here are the new locations of interest as of 2pm:
1:45pm - Here's a recap on the Care in the Community Model:
1:22pm - Here are the regional updates from the Ministry of Health:
Today we are announcing new community cases in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes and MidCentral.
There are no additional cases to report today in Wairarapa, Wellington Canterbury or Hawke's Bay.
Two previously reported community cases have been reclassified as 'not a case', so the net increase is 176 community 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 Healthpoint.
We're asking anyone in the following regions with symptoms – no matter how mild – to please get tested, even if fully vaccinated. Please remain isolated until a negative test result is returned.
There are two cases to report in Northland today - one linked case in Whangārei and one unlinked case in Ruakaka.
In response to the Ruakaka case, a pop-up testing site is opening this afternoon at the Ruakaka Racecourse.
The pop-up site is open at the following times:
- 2:30pm until 6pm today
- 9am until 3pm tomorrow
- 9am until 3pm Saturday
- 10am until 2pm Sunday
- 9am until 3pm Monday.
We encourage anyone living in or near Ruakaka with any symptoms that could be COVID-19 to get a test.
Further testing and vaccination sites open in Northland can be found via Northland DHB.
Today, there are 149 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.
Health staff are now supporting 4211 people to isolate at home around Auckland - this includes 1172 cases.
There are 16 new cases to report in Waikato today. Eight are in Te Kūiti, five are in Huntly and three are in Kawhia. All are linked to known cases.
One case reported on Wednesday has now been confirmed as being in Piopio, south-west of Te Kūiti.
There are seven pop-up and dedicated testing sites operating across Waikato today in Hamilton, Ōtorohanga, Thames, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia and Te Kūiti.
In the Waikato region, health staff are now supporting 144 cases to isolate at home.
Bay of Plenty
Today we are reporting nine new cases in the Bay of Plenty, all in the Tauranga area.
Six of the cases are known close contacts and were already in isolation. Interviews with the remaining cases are underway to determine the source of their infection.
A case announced on Wednesday in eastern Bay of Plenty is self-isolating and being supported by Tuhoe Hauora.
Following the detection of the eastern Bay of Plenty case, additional testing is available at the Nukuhou North Settlers until 4pm today.
Testing will also be available at MedCentral in Whakatāne today from 9am to 4pm.
Further information on testing in the region will be updated via the Bay of Plenty DHB website.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Bay of Plenty is another reminder to get tested if you're feeling unwell and to get your first dose of the vaccine if you haven't already.
There is one new case to report, based in Rotorua.
There is good testing capacity across the region with dedicated community testing centres in Taupō and Rotorua. See Healthpoint for locations and opening times. Testing is also available at a number of medical centres and Hauora Māori.
Today, we are reporting one new case of COVID-19 in Pahīatua, bringing the total number of cases in the region to five.
It comes after the virus was detected multiple times in wastewater samples taken in Pahīatua over the past fortnight.
The latest case is now self-isolating, with investigations into the source of the infection underway. So far, initial case interviews have identified a small number of household contacts, who are isolating with tests arranged.
Case interviews have also determined seven initial locations of interest across Pahīatua and Palmerston North. These have been added to the Ministry's website
As further locations of interest are expected people in the MidCentral region, particularly in Pahīatua, are asked to monitor the locations of interest..
Testing is available at:
- 46 Main Street, Pahīatua. Open until 3pm today
- Pahīatua Medical Centre, Main Street and Centre Street. Open until 3pm today
- 575 Main St, Palmerston North. Open 8am to 6pm weekdays, and 10am to 2pm weekends.
Testing is also available at GP and Urgent Care clinics. Additional testing capacity in the area will be stood up, if required, and details will be available on Healthpoint.
We are also calling for people to get vaccinated, with many sites available across the region. Vaccination clinic locations are available via MidCentral DHB.
1:21pm - Another COVID-related death has been recorded.
The person, in their 50s, died at Auckland City Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry of Health confirmed.
The patient was admitted to Auckland City Hospital on November 5.
"Our thoughts are with the patient’s whānau and friends at this deeply sad time," the ministry said.
1:20pm - There are 178 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Thursday and one additional death - a patient in their 50s.
Here are Thursday's figures from the Ministry of Health:
More than 18,000 vaccine doses administered yesterday; 178 cases; 77 people in hospital - 8 people in ICU
There were 18,623 first and second vaccine doses administered yesterday, made up of 6,600 first doses and 12,023 second doses. To date, 92 percent of eligible people in New Zealand have had their first dose and 84 percent are fully vaccinated.
As at 10.30am today, more than 1,890,000 requests for a My Vaccine Pass have been processed.
The My Vaccine Pass 0800 number continues to receive an unprecedented volume of calls. On average it has been receiving 30,000 calls a day.
We ask people to continue to be patient. There is plenty of time to get a pass, and if people can't get through immediately we ask they try again later. As of late yesterday, wait times were averaging less than 10 minutes for My Vaccine Pass.
As a result of system changes overnight Wednesday, waiting times have reduced and more improvements are being worked on today, including shifting more staff into technical support for the My Health Account and My COVID Records and hours on the technical lines being extended to 8pm. Face-to-face options will also be available soon.
COVID-19 vaccine update
Total first and second vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people)
7,405,301: 3,860,356 first doses (92 pct); 3,544,945 second doses (84 pct)
Total first and second vaccines administered yesterday
18,623: 6,600 first doses; 12,023 second doses
Māori (percentage of eligible people)
832,534: 457,894 first doses (80 pct); 374,640 second doses (66 pct)
Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people)
485,726: 257,446 first doses (90 pct); 228,280 second doses (80 pct)
Total first and second vaccines administered to Auckland residents yesterday
3,956: 1,169 first doses; 2,787 second doses
Vaccination rates by DHB (with active cases)
Northland DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (84 pct); second doses (75 pct)
Auckland Metro DHBs (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (93 pct); second doses (88 pct)
Waikato DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (90 pct); second doses (82 pct)
Canterbury DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (95 pct); second doses (86 pct)
Lakes DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (87 pct); second doses (77 pct)
MidCentral DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (91 pct); second doses (82 pct)
Bay of Plenty DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (89 pct); second doses (79 pct)
Wairarapa DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (92 pct); second doses (82 pct)
Hawke's Bay DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (90 pct); second doses (80 pct)
Capital and Coast DHB (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (95 pct); second doses (89 pct)
Cases in hospital
77 - North Shore (16); Middlemore (25); Auckland (33); Waikato (2); Rotorua (1)
Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only as of 25 November)
Unvaccinated or not eligible (42 cases / 60 pct); partially vaccinated<14 days (5 cases / 7 pct) partially vaccinated >14 days (8 cases / 11 pct); fully vaccinated <14 days (1 case / 1 pct) fully vaccinated >14 days (10 cases / 14 pct); unknown (4 cases / 6 pct)
Average age of current hospitalisations
Cases in ICU or HDU
Seven day rolling average of community cases
Number of new community cases
Number of new cases identified at the border
Location of new community cases
Auckland (149), Waikato (16), Northland (2), Bay of Plenty (9), Lakes (1), MidCentral (1)
Location of community cases (total)
Auckland 7,088660 (2,2878 of whom have recovered); Waikato 393 (109 of whom have recovered); Wellington 18 (17 of whom have recovered); Northland 74 (39 of whom have recovered); Nelson/Marlborough 1 (recovered); Canterbury 8 (4 of whom have recovered); Taranaki 6 (all of whom have recovered); Lakes 25; MidCentral 5; Bay of Plenty 39; Wairarapa 3
Number of community cases (total)
7,660 (in current community outbreak)
Confirmed cases (total)
199 out of 8,615 cases since 1 January
Cases infectious in the community
69 cases reported yesterday have exposure events
Cases in isolation throughout the period they were infectious
124 cases reported yesterday have no exposure events
Cases epidemiologically linked
96 of today's new cases
Cases to be epidemiologically linked
82 of today's new cases
Cases epidemiologically linked (total)
5793660 (9210 unlinked in the last 14 days)
Number of active contacts being managed (total):
Percentage who have received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements)
Percentage who have returned at least one result
Locations of interest
Locations of interest (total)
169 (as at 10am 25 November)
Number of tests (total)
Number of tests total (last 24 hours)
Tests processed in Auckland (last 24 hours)
Tests rolling average (last 7 days)
Testing centres in Auckland
No unexpected results
NZ COVID Tracer
Registered users (total)
Poster scans (total)
Manual diary entries (total)
Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday
12:45pm - The Government has announced that DIY rapid antigen tests will be available for the public to purchase at pharmacies from December 15, as part of a billion-dollar package to support cases of COVID-19 in the community.
With more than 1500 cases self-isolating at home in Auckland, the Government is investing nearly $1 billion in a new testing and contact tracing strategy, $300 million in antiviral medication, and $200 million in welfare support.
"Delta is here so we are changing our strategy for how we deal with the virus," Health Minister Andrew Little said on Thursday. "The vast majority of people who get COVID will have mild to moderate symptoms and won't require hospital care, but we need to make sure those recovering at home have the support and medicine they need to recover safely, and that others in the household are safe as well."
Little admitted to Newshub's Michael Morrah earlier this month that the home isolation system "wasn't ready" to cope with more than 120 daily cases of COVID-19 in the community. There have also been several deaths of people isolating at home. Two weeks ago, a man in his 60s was the third person to die while isolating at home with the virus in Auckland in one week.
The mandatory isolation period for COVID-19 cases was reduced earlier this month from 14 to 10 days, while fully vaccinated close contacts only have to isolate for seven.
To help the system cope, Little has announced that confirmed cases will be given a health pack tailored to their needs, which will be delivered within 48 hours to help their recovery.
12:30pm - There will be no press conference at 1pm - instead, the Ministry of Health will release a statement containing the latest updates.
12:20pm - Fletcher Building is proposing mandatory vaccination for anyone who undertakes work on its sites and workplaces.
"Fletcher Building is proposing that everyone who undertakes work on our sites/workplaces [must] be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to carry out their roles. If the proposal was implemented, everyone would need to be fully vaccinated by February 15, 2022," New Zealand Distribution chief executive Bruce McEwen said on Thursday.
The proposal also covers Fletcher Building's external supply chain, which - if implemented - would require workers to be fully vaccinated by March 14, 2022.
The company, one of the largest in New Zealand, is also seeking feedback on a proposal to implement COVID-19 testing "as required".
"As COVID-19 becomes more widespread in the community, our people will have increased exposure outside of work which increases the risk of transmission in our workplaces. Fletcher Building and New Zealand Distribution strongly believe vaccinations not only save lives, but keep our workplaces, teams, customers, and communities safe," McEwen said.
"In addition, we have sought expert advice, which is clear that vaccinations are the strongest and most effective control measure to protect our people, workplaces and wider communities."
12:10pm - There are several new locations of interest as of 12pm, including the first related to the recent case in Palmerston North:
- Noel Leeming, Palmerston North
- The Plaza Shopping Centre, Palmerston North
- The Warehouse, Palmerston North
- Kmart, Palmerston North
- Matangi Takeaways, Hamilton
- New World, Pahiatua.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
12pm - ACT leader David Seymour is welcoming the Government's move to make rapid antigen testing more widely available, but says the announcement has come "months too late".
The party has been pushing for saliva testing and rapid antigen testing to be used more widely as they become available, with their first call for greater testing options issued in March.
"That was nine months ago. Instead of preparing for this, the Government inexplicably banned rapid antigen tests from being imported," Seymour said following the announcement on Thursday.
"In June I said in Parliament: 'The one that ACT has an objection to is the actual ban on point-of-care tests. It's another theme of this Government's response that it has been, again, very fixated on who delivers the service: Ministry of Health good; everybody else bad, out in the cold. That has held us back as a country. It's made our response to COVID-19 less nimble and less efficient'.
"ACT has been saying all along that the Government needs to be better prepared and make use of technology. While we welcome today's development, it is, as usual, far too late."
11:50am - To recap, the Government has also announced additional social support for individuals and whānau who contract COVID-19 and need to isolate at home.
Here are the key points:
- The Government is providing $204.1 million to fund regional, locally led responses to support people who are isolating and recovering from COVID-19 at home. The investment will fund welfare support under the Care in the Community Model, providing food, financial assistance, and connection to the right services.
- New regional COVID-19 welfare teams led by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) will coordinate social service support for people isolating at home.
- Regional teams will work alongside other Government agencies, iwi/Māori and community providers to deliver housing, food and income support and provide funding where needed. They will also work with Health, HUD, Kāinga Ora and MBIE to find suitable alternative accommodation if someone who has tested positive can't isolate at home.
- Those who test positive will be provided with information on how to access welfare support if they need it. Cases will have their needs assessed and if they require welfare support, MSD will act as the coordination point for local partners, providers and community groups.
- A dedicated 0800 COVID-19 welfare support helpline will be available to support those in isolation throughout their recovery.
11:40am - To recap, the Government has announced ia new testing and contact tracing strategy to support the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
Here are the key points:
- Nearly $1 billion is being invested in COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and case investigation.
- Daily laboratory capacity will increase to 60,000 PCR tests in the first quarter of 2022.
- A new national telehealth service specialising in the investigation of cases, featuring 475 investigators, will be launched to supplement the work of Public Health Units. The investigators will be trained by the end of November.
- With more New Zealanders gaining protection from COVID-19 through vaccinations, the Government will introduce a wider range of testing options that provide other benefits such as accessibility, convenience and speed.
- Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test, but this will be supplemented by saliva-based PCR testing, rapid antigen testing and rapid PCR tests.
- Rapid antigen tests will be more widely used from December 1, with businesses able to directly source approved rapid antigen tests from authorised suppliers for use within their workforce. These tests will be more widely used across the health system, including for aged residential care.
- Rapid antigen tests will be available to the general public at pharmacies from December 15, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results.
- Under the new framework, regions at Red and Orange will focus on symptomatic testing and surveillance testing in high-risk settings. Regions at Green will see a greater focus on surveillance testing.
11:30am - A series of new investments and initiatives have been announced on Thursday morning to supplement the COVID-19 response under the upcoming 'traffic light' system.
Here are the key points regarding the Government's new 'Care in the Community Model' to support COVID-positive Kiwis and their recovery at home:
- The Government is rolling out its COVID Care in the Community Model to support cases of COVID-19 as they isolate and recover at home. The COVID Care in the Community Model outlines a framework for how community support will be provided to those who are isolating at home.
- Under the model, all new cases will be initially contacted by a healthcare provider within 24 hours of a positive result to discuss any health, accommodation and wellbeing requirements. Household contacts will also need to isolate, and they will be supported with health and testing advice.
- The model will also ensure all cases have a designated point of contact, most likely from a local healthcare provider, who will be responsible for looking out for the person's health and wellbeing needs - including making a plan for checking in regularly while the person is infected.
- All cases will receive a health pack tailored to the individual's needs, delivered within 48 hours to help the person manage their recovery.
- Cases will be provided with ongoing clinical monitoring over the duration of the isolation period to make sure they are coping with symptoms and it is safe for them to continue being cared for in the community.
- A health assessment will be provided at Day 10 to determine whether the person can safely end their time in isolation.
- As part of the shift to Care in the Community, the Government is providing $300 million for the national drug-buying agency Pharmac to buy more new medicines to treat COVID-19.
11:20am - Here are the latest locations of interest as of 11am - one has been updated from earlier:
- The RnM Sports Bar & Grill, Rotorua
- Ebbett Toyota, Hamilton
- Z 15th Ave Petrol Station Tauranga.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
11:15am - Northland District Health Board (DHB) chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain has squashed rumours that he suffered a severe heart attack following a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, speculation the DHB says was rife among those with anti-vaccination views.
Dr Chamberlain was "shocked" to hear he was at the centre of a "nasty rumour spread by anti-vaxxers", the DHB said in a statement on Thursday. The rumour was circulated so widely, it even reached his daughter in Wellington.
"Dr Chamberlain is happy to dispel rumours that even reached his daughter in Wellington and say he is alive and kicking and has not even had his booster dose," a spokesperson for the DHB said.
"Bookings don't open to those who had their second COVID-19 dose six months ago until Friday, November 26."
Dr Chamberlain said this is yet another example of how dangerous anti-vaccination sentiments can be - and this time, it has affected his whānau directly. People were even calling from Australia to check if he was okay.
In a statement, Dr Chamberlain encouraged those who are hesitant to get the vaccine or lacking confidence in its efficacy to speak with someone who can provide reliable information.
"Don't rely on what you read on social media, please. Instead, speak to a member of your whānau or your local iwi or Māori Health Provider. Or make an appointment with your GP. They are offering FREE appointments to patients who have questions and concerns about the vaccine," he said.
"Trust the science and make a decision one way or another. However, I encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated. Yes, you can still get COVID-19 if you're vaccinated the same way you can still get pregnant if you use contraception -and the same way you can die from a car accident if you use a seatbelt. That doesn't mean you're not going to use contraception or a seatbelt.
"The vaccine is not a cure. It's a layer of protection - up to 95 percent and protects you from getting severe symptoms from the virus so that you don't die.
"It also reduces the risk of spreading the virus so that other people you care about don't die. Unfortunately, we have seen from this latest outbreak how quickly this virus has spread within our region, and we need our population to get vaccinated before our borders open."
11:02am - Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni announced on Thursday that $204.1 million will be made available to support individuals and whānau who contract COVID-19 and need to isolate at home.
The funding will include:
- new regional COVID-19 welfare teams from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to coordinate social service support for those isolating at home
- regional teams working alongside other government agencies, iwi/Māori and community providers for housing, food and income support
- Government investment of $204.1m into welfare system support for Care in the Community.
"As we enter a new phase in our response to COVID-19 which will see more people isolating at home, we are changing our strategy to ensure everyone gets the support they need in order to isolate and recover safely," Sepuloni said.
"Supporting the welfare needs of individuals and whānau is central to how we will manage COVID-19 in the community from now on. Each region in New Zealand has different community support and groups available to them, therefore the Government is providing $204.1m for region-specific, locally-led responses.
"Whether you are in Westport or West Auckland we want to ensure welfare support such as food, financial assistance, and connection to the right services is available for you and your whānau.
"For those who need to isolate, we're making the process as simple as possible. When you have a COVID test you will be provided with information on how to proactively access welfare support if you need it.
"If you receive a positive test, you will be contacted by someone who will assess your needs. If you need welfare support, then MSD will act as the coordination point for local partners, providers and community groups to deliver the support you require.
"MSD's regions will work with partners, including iwi/Māori and local providers to deliver this support and provide funding where it is needed. They will also work with Health, HUD, Kāinga Ora and MBIE to find suitable alternative accommodation if someone who has tested positive and can't isolate at home.
"A dedicated 0800 COVID-19 welfare support helpline will also be available to support those in isolation throughout their recovery.
"During the response to Delta, the Government provided $38.15m in funding for food support and community connection services to help whānau access the immediate support they need. We have seen some excellent work being carried out by our community providers, particularly by Māori and Pacific focused organisations in Auckland.
"As we move to the traffic light system and ease restrictions across New Zealand, we know that we will need to take a locally-led approach specific to each region and community. This funding will support this approach by empowering our local partners and organisations to deliver welfare support. Our high rates of vaccination mean New Zealanders are in a strong position as we move to ease restrictions and open back up. But we also know there are many for whom getting COVID-19 will not only be dangerous for their health but also challenging for their situation. This package is about making life as easy as possible as people recover.
"We will continue to monitor the needs of the community and respond if more support is required."
11:01am - A new national testing strategy will provide better protection for high-risk groups as New Zealand transitions to the COVID-19 Protection Framework, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall announced on Thursday.
The transition to the COVID-19 Protection Framework will be supported by a new testing and contact tracing strategy, which includes:
- wider use of rapid antigen testing from December 1
- increasing daily laboratory capacity to 60,000 PCR tests in the first quarter of 2022
- a new national telehealth case investigation service with 475 investigators
- a nearly $1 billion investment in testing, contact tracing and case investigation.
"Delta is here, so we are ensuring we have the tools in place to support the transition to the new framework, and to help minimise the spread of COVID-19," Verrall said.
"When we were pursuing an elimination strategy we relied on highly sensitive PCR tests because the cost of missing a case was too high. With more and more New Zealanders gaining protection through vaccinations, we can now introduce a wider range of routine testing options that provide other benefits such as accessibility, convenience and speed.
"With more COVID-19 cases appearing around the country, testing, tracing and quickly isolating cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting whānau and communities. We will focus surveillance testing and contact tracing where it's most needed, to find and minimise COVID-19."
Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test, but this will be supplemented by saliva-based PCR testing, rapid antigen testing and rapid PCR tests.
From December 1, businesses will be able to directly source approved rapid antigen tests from authorised suppliers for use within their workforce. These tests will be more widely used across the health system, including for aged residential care.
Rapid antigen tests will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from December 15, with tests to be administered under the supervision of pharmacy staff. A PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results.
Under the new framework, in regions at Red and Orange there will be a focus on symptomatic testing and surveillance testing in high-risk settings. Regions at Green will see a greater focus on surveillance testing, to quickly find any new clusters of cases.
Targeted testing will provide greater capacity for laboratories to process priority testing as part of the Government's efforts to protect vulnerable and high-risk communities. Work is underway to expand capacity to 60,000 PCR tests per day by early next year.
"We have also stood up a new national telehealth case investigation service, and are training 475 investigators by the end of this month. This will add significant new capacity on top of the excellent work of our Public Health Units. There is a focus on recruiting Māori and Pacific staff, to ensure we can respond to these communities," Verrall said.
"Under the new strategy there will be more ways to test people with faster results, providing greater certainty and reassurance – and less disruption to our everyday lives. No country has managed to eliminate delta completely, but we have protections in place to minimise its impact."
11am - The Government is increasing the support for New Zealanders who test positive for COVID-19 through the rollout of the COVID Care in the Community Model - and a $300 million funding boost to Pharmac to purchase new medicines to treat the virus, Health Minister Andrew Little announced on Thursday.
"Delta is here so we are changing our strategy for how we deal with the virus. Supported recovery at home and greater access to medicines to stop people getting very sick are the cornerstones of the Care in the Community model," Andrew Little said.
"As we move to the 'traffic light' system, reduce restrictions, and remove the Auckland boundary, people will be travelling around the country in the months to come and we will see more cases across the country.
"The vast majority of people who get COVID will have mild to moderate symptoms and won't require hospital care, but we need to make sure those recovering at home have the support and medicine they need to recover safely, and that others in the household are safe as well."
The COVID Care in the Community Model provides the framework for how end-to-end community support will be provided as cases increase throughout the country, and sets out the expectations of health and welfare providers.
For someone with COVID-19 who can isolate at home, Care in the Community will include:
- An initial contact from a healthcare provider within 24 hours of a positive result notification, to discuss any health, accommodation and wellbeing requirements. Household contacts will also need to isolate, they'll be supported with health advice and getting tested as well.
- A designated point of contact, most likely from a local healthcare provider, who will be responsible for looking out for the person's health and wellbeing needs, including making a plan for checking in regularly while the person is infected.
- A health pack tailored to the individual's health needs delivered within 48 hours to help the person manage recovery.
- Ongoing clinical monitoring over the duration of the isolation period to make sure the person is coping with symptoms and is safe to continue being cared for in the community.
- A health assessment at Day 10 to determine whether the person can safely end time in isolation.
At this point, household contacts will need to stay at home for at least 10 days, to make sure they remain free from the virus. The households' dedicated health contact will continue to check in on them during this time.
Everyone can also do their bit now to help themselves and their loved ones by using the Readiness Checklist to plan and prepare.
COVID-19 medicines funding
As part of the shift to Care in the Community, the Government is providing $300 million for the national drug-buying agency Pharmac to purchase more new medicines to treat COVID-19.
"Medicines are being rapidly developed and can stop most people getting so sick they need to go to hospital," Little said.
"Vaccinations are still the first and best line of defence against the virus, but we want to make sure people who contract COVID-19 have access to new treatments as soon as possible.
"New Zealand is at the front of the queue for these medicines. We were one of the first countries in the world to secure supplies of the new antiviral drug molnupiravir for treating people with mild-to-medium COVID-19 infections, and Pharmac is talking to other pharmaceutical companies about their medicines.
"Cabinet has agreed to provide an extra $300 million so the purchase of COVID drugs doesn't affect Pharmac's ability to keep buying medications and treatments for other conditions."
Here's a recap of what supporting New Zealanders to recover from COVID-19 in the community will entail:
- a $300 million boost to Pharmac to buy new medicines to treat COVID-19
- Care in the Community approach will see most cases receive initial contact from a healthcare provider within 24 hours
- support pack provided within 48 hours
- regular health checks throughout recovery.
10:35am - Dr Kyle Eggleton, a rural health expert at the University of Auckland, says more thought needs to be put into the methods of communication used by health authorities to contact New Zealanders in rural communities.
Phone calls are not always a viable option due to patchy coverage, and in-person visits by health providers can be too risky. However, emails are not timely enough and will not pick up subtleties in a person's conditions.
"Video consultations are not widely used and require a reasonable familiarity with technology to set up," he said.
"When you are ill you will want the most convenient and easily-used technology i.e. phone. However, phone coverage is patchy in many rural areas and sometimes totally absent. For these locations health providers will probably have to physically visit - which is resource-intensive, takes people away from other tasks, and places the health provider at risk of infection.
"Some things to consider include providing phones and data packages to people who have limited income, and ensuring that lots of resources go into rural primary care for physical monitoring of patients who have limited communication or fragile health."
10:30am - A health expert is concerned the current home isolation policy relies too much on ticking off a "checkbox list" without considering the nuances of health and the associated risks.
Dr Kyle Eggleton, the associate dean of Rural Health at the University of Auckland's Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, says the current policy relies on a risk stratification by Public Health as to whether a person can safely isolate at home, whether they need to isolate in MIQ, and if they can isolate at home, how frequently they need to be contacted. A list of conditions that places people at risk of complications and requirements are checked off.
"Although the current policy does not involve notification to primary care of cases isolating at home, a new policy is being formulated that will notify primary care as well as social service providers (in order to ensure that people's social needs are met). This proposed policy is an improvement on the old, existing policy," he said on Thursday.
"However, there are some significant issues that we need to be mindful of. One issue relates to thinking about risk as being a little more nuanced than ensuring that a checkbox list is completed. Health is complex with multiple intersections, and a greater deal of flexibility should be applied to risk stratification. I also question whether Public Health are in the best position to understand a person's risk, and would think that the primary care team would understand an individual's circumstances a lot better.
"One reason for this is that Public Health do not have access to the GP's notes and are only reliant on the history taken from individuals as well as any hospital records."
10:20am - Chris Hipkins says the staggered reopening of the border is to ensure the country doesn't flip-flop in and out of restrictions in the event the influx of international arrivals causes a surge in case numbers.
"There's a lesson to learn from those countries overseas who have tried to do too much at once when it comes to reconnecting. [It] often leads to a big surge in cases and it means that you have to go backwards. We don't want to be in that position," he told RNZ's Morning Report on Thursday.
It echoes comments he made earlier on The AM Show, during which Hipkins said the Government wanted the reopening of the border to be "sustainable". He said nations who have tried to go too far, too soon have often suffered the consequences, and a staggered approach to new arrivals is the best way of avoiding a possible spike in infections.
He noted that with New Zealand transitioning to the new framework next week and Auckland's regional boundary lifting on December 15, there are already a number of changes on the way that will increase the risk of COVID-19 in the community.
"Next week Auckland will be opening up to much more business than it has before, with active COVID cases in the community. A couple of weeks later we're seeing the boundary around Auckland removed. Those two things significantly increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading in New Zealand and an increase in case numbers already."
10:10am - There are two new locations of interest as of 10am:
- Ruck n Maul, Rotorua
- New World, Gate Pa, Tauranga.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
9:50am - The Government is relying on the "goodwill and honesty" of international arrivals to self-isolate for seven days before entering the community, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday morning.
From January 17, fully vaccinated Kiwis can return to New Zealand from Australia without entering managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) on arrival. From February 13, fully vaccinated Kiwis can come home from any other country, with New Zealand eventually reopening to all fully vaccinated foreign nationals from April 30.
New arrivals will still be required to self-isolate for seven days and present two negative tests before entering the community.
Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report, Hipkins admitted there is no robust way to monitor people in self-isolation.
"Obviously with the number of people we're talking about, and we're talking about potentially going from a couple of thousand people a week to many thousands of people a day coming into the country, it's going to have to be a relatively light-touch monitoring regime," he said.
He said the level of resource required to intensively police international arrivals "just wouldn't be possible or sustainable".
"We are going to be relying on the goodwill and honesty of people coming into the country."
9:35am - In case you missed it, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand could revert from the upcoming traffic light system back to the alert level framework - and potential lockdowns - as a "back-up plan" if a vaccine-resistant variant arrived in New Zealand.
His comments come after accusations from the Opposition that the COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill, which will allow the Government to implement the traffic light system, was rushed through Parliament without the chance for parliamentary or public scrutiny.
The Bill passed under urgency on Wednesday.
"Parliamentary urgency is never an ideal situation," Hipkins admitted on Thursday. "I'd rather us put things through a more regular Parliamentary process and that there was more Select Committee scrutiny and people had the opportunity to have their say.
"The reality is all of those things take time and when you've got people sitting at home waiting to get their freedom back, we want to move as quickly as we can," he told The AM Show.
Hipkins said the Government was "absolutely committed to the traffic light system" but a contingency pan would be to revert to the alert level framework, and possibly lockdown, "if things got really bad".
"We've got multiple plans but even with multiple plans, it's still an uncertain environment and you still have to keep readjusting."
9:23am - Here's a recap on Wednesday's 215 cases:
9:10am - Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has on Thursday released a guide to the operations of the Parliamentary Precinct under the COVID-19 Protection Framework, also referred to as the traffic light system.
"After seeking feedback from a range of groups who use the precinct, I have developed a system which prioritises the safety of those who work in and visit Parliament, mitigates risk where possible, and supports the effective function of our democracy," Mallard said.
"It is clear there are a range of views from different groups, but the widely held feedback from staff who have Parliament as their workplace is that allowing unvaccinated visitors would pose a risk to them. All MPs and staff members, including those who have friends and whānau who are vulnerable to COVID-19, or who are vulnerable themselves, should be able to come to work at Parliament and feel as safe as possible."
From January 1, 2022 visitors will be required to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate in order to take tours of Parliament. This requirement will also include education groups for adults and children over the age of 12 years and three months. The wellbeing of staff, visitors and the wider community is the focus of this decision.
"I believe strongly in the accessibility of our Parliament and this not a decision I have taken lightly. There are a range of virtual offerings that are available to support the accessibility of information for those who choose not to present a vaccination certificate. The offerings include a virtual tour via the Parliament XR app, videos and other digital resources."
Staff vaccination is a matter for the employers who have staff on the precinct, but this framework signals that the movement of staff who choose not to present a vaccination certificate will be restricted to only movement strictly necessary for those staff to complete their jobs, he added.
The new system, with the exception of tours and education settings which will be effective from January 1, will be effective from when New Zealand implements the COVID-19 Protection Framework at 11:59pm on Thursday, December 2. Parliament will use My Vaccine Pass to confirm vaccination status.
All MPs will be fully vaccinated by the time the COVID-19 Protection Framework comes into play. The system also covers the house, select committees, events and hospitality venues, and other visitors.
This system has been considered based on the current environment and will be reviewed on or before March 31, 2022.
8:55am - Public health expert and epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says the Government's decision to stagger the return of international arrivals throughout the first quarter of 2022 is as much to do with administrative capacity as it is to do with managing risk.
He told the New Zealand Herald the Government's phased approach is largely centred on the complexities and challenges of managing pandemic prevention systems.
"It's a mixture of a genuine desire to protect New Zealand from the ravages of the pandemic, and an element of administrative capacity," Baker told the Herald.
Despite criticisms lobbed at the Government for preventing Kiwis from returning home in time for Christmas, Baker said it would be logistically impossible to open the border before the festive season.
He said the systems were "groaning" with the volume of demands, including for MIQ spaces and vaccine passes.
"We are in an age where we expect everything to work seamlessly," Baker said. "We are moving into a different strategy now, and what we call a tight suppression approach."
8:40am - The Government has finally announced a date for when New Zealand can welcome back foreign travellers - but not everyone in the tourism industry is celebrating.
"It feels a little bit like we're being thrown scraps - like a dog," Wendy Van Lieshout, the chief executive of Active Adventures, told Newshub. "We're kissing goodbye to another whole New Zealand summer which in our [company's] case, represents about $9 million to $10 million in revenue... so it's absolutely devastating," she says.
But it's not the date itself that's causing the most concern.
On Wednesday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins outlined the reopening plan for the international border. From April 30 onwards, fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be able to travel to New Zealand without staying in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) - but they must self-isolate at home for seven days and return two negative tests before entering the community.
"I can assure you, as a tourism business, not a single international customer will want to self isolate in any shape or form," Van Lieshout said.
The Tourism Export Council says the self-isolation requirement is "total nonsense" and New Zealand's global reputation as a travel destination is at risk of being destroyed.
"The world-class visitor offering that we have built up over 50 years will be smashed to smithereens and our global reputation will go down the gurgler. It's a serious, serious issue," chief executive Lynda Keene told Newshub.
The council says if the requirement is not dropped, New Zealand will effectively be taken off the map in 2022.
8:32am - A new text service has been launched to support the vaccination of disabled people, Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni announced on Thursday.
The service, run by Whakarongorau Aotearoa on behalf of the Ministry of Health, is in response to feedback from the disability community and is an addition to the COVID Vaccination Healthline, which already offers phone and email support for disabled people and people living with impairments to get their vaccination.
"We're making it easier for the deaf, hard of hearing community and others who may be speech impaired to get vaccinated. They can now text 8988 for access to vaccine information, help to book a vaccination appointment, or support with transport," Sepuloni said.
"It's heartening to see good uptake of the phone and email service which has already received over 3400 phone calls since September. It has not only been a safe haven for disabled people to discuss vaccination, anxiety or needle phobias, but they've been supported to access sites with low sensory settings for example as well as home vaccinations.
"The Whakarongorau service is staffed with a dedicated team of advisors who are either living with a disability themselves, have close whānau with a disability or have extensive experience working with the disabled community. Their lived experience makes the service unique and underlines the ethos of The Manaakitanga Journey to enhance the vaccination experiences for disabled people.
"One in four New Zealanders identify as disabled or having an impairment. As of November 21, of the 37,269 people supported by Disability Support Services and long term ACC clients nationwide, 86 percent have had their first dose, and 79 percent have been fully vaccinated.
"As we take steps towards more freedoms as a fully vaccinated Aotearoa New Zealand, we're committed to ensuring that our vaccination programme continues to be as accessible and inclusive as possible to all New Zealanders. We're in a new phase in our fight against COVID, and an even greater fight to protect the hauora of disabled people and their whānau."
8:20am - A little-known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea, the country reporting a new daily record of 4116 cases as the spike in severe cases puts a strain on hospitals.
In a tiny rural church in a town of 427 residents in Cheonan, south of Seoul, at least 241 people linked to the religious community had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday (local time), a city official told Reuters.
"We believe the scale of the outbreak is large," the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.
About 90 percent of the religious community was unvaccinated and the majority were in close contact through communal living.
Many of the congregation were elderly, in their 60s and above, and were unvaccinated, the official said. Just 17 of the 241 cases had been vaccinated.
"I believe it's the church's anti-government beliefs that refrained the believers to get the vaccine," the official said, adding that the town was put under a lockdown.
8:10am - A little-known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea, as the country reported a new daily record of 4116 cases and battles a spike in serious cases straining hospitals.
Meanwhile, cases have jumped 23 percent in the Americas in the last week, mostly in North America, where both the United States and Canada are reporting increasing infection rates.
And Europe is once again the epicentre of the pandemic, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday. WHO officials warned the SARS-CoV-2 virus would keep spreading intensely as societies return to the social mixing and mobility of a pre-pandemic period in the run-up to the year-end holidays.
"In many countries and communities, we are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic, and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions," he said.
8am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has defended the Government's phased reopening of the international border over the first quarter of 2022, despite criticism that fully vaccinated Kiwis won't be able to come home from Australia until almost a month after Christmas.
From January 17, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travellers will be able to enter New Zealand from Australia without being required to stay in MIQ on arrival. The timing has riled many critics of the Government's plan, who question why the border couldn't open to Australia ahead of the festive season - allowing Kiwis stuck across the ditch to reunite with their families.
Speaking to The AM Show on Thursday morning, Hipkins said the Government wants to stagger the risk over the coming months. New Zealand is set to adopt the COVID-19 Protection Framework from next week, allowing a return to relative freedom for fully vaccinated Kiwis. On December 15, Auckland's regional boundary will lift, allowing New Zealanders to travel to and from the Super City. Fully vaccinated Kiwis can then start to return from Australia the following month.
"We don't want a whole lot of extra risk at the same time," Hipkins said. "We want to try and do this in a way that's sustainable."
Hipkins cited international examples, such as countries in Europe, who have removed their restrictions simultaneously rather than adopting a staggered approach. Many are subsequently forced to reintroduce restrictions as the sudden return to freedom can cause case numbers to surge to uncontrollable levels, he said.
"We're trying to [phase] it in ways that avoid surges... and us reimposing restrictions."
With tens of thousands of Kiwis possibly returning from Australia each week, Hipkins said it's difficult to model how many could be potentially carrying the virus as it depends on the spread within Australia.
"The fact they're double-vaccinated doesn't mean they can't be carrying COVID-19."
7:55am - Criticism has been lobbed at the Government for its decision to push the legislation for the COVID-19 Protection Framework through Parliament under urgency, bypassing the lengthy select committee process - and omitting parliamentary and public scrutiny.
Speaking to The AM Show, Hipkins admitted it was "not a perfect process" and "not ideal", but it reflected the urgency of the situation. The Government confirmed on Monday the framework would come into effect for New Zealand from 11:59pm on December 2 - a week-and-a-half after their announcement.
"We're trying to manage through a global pandemic, and manage that in a way that accepts the reality - COVID-19 is now here in New Zealand and it's not going to go away. We need to have a system in place that manages that while giving New Zealanders as much freedom as possible," he said.
When pressed as to why Parliament did not begin the process earlier - with the Government initially announcing plans for the new framework in October - Hipkins conceded that he would have preferred to "put things through a regular parliamentary process", but it would have taken too long given the circumstances.
"Parliamentary urgency is never an ideal situation. I'd much prefer we put things through a regular parliamentary process and people had the opportunity to have their say, but reality is, all of those things take time. When you've got people sitting at home waiting to get their freedom back, we want to move as quickly as we can," he said.
"Yes, it's not ideal, but we've put extra safeguards in place - every decision that gets made under the law change that was passed by Parliament yesterday is subject to select committee scrutiny and has to be confirmed by a vote in the House of Parliament, and the law itself expires after a period of time - it has to be periodically renewed by Parliament as well.
"I'm not going to say that's a perfect process, it's certainly not. But we've got to move quickly."
7:49am - Chris Hipkins has confirmed that reverting to the alert level system is the Government's "back-up plan" if a vaccine-resistant variant of COVID-19 emerges in New Zealand.
Speaking to The AM Show, he said this "possibility" could set the country "back a long way" as the COVID-19 Protection Framework is designed for a highly vaccinated population.
"The back-up plan, if things got really bad, would be to go back to the alert level system," he said.
"If you ended up with a vaccine-resistant variant of the virus, which the scientists will tell you is absolutely possible... that [would] put us back quite a long way... of course, it's not what we think is going to happen."
He said the alert level system would be a "contingency plan" in the event that a new, vaccine-resistant variant arrives on New Zealand's shores.
"We don't want to do that," he said, reiterating that the Government is "absolutely committed" to its COVID-19 Protection Framework.
7:45am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is speaking on The AM Show.
You can watch the interview live on Three or via our livestream here.
7:30am - Auckland's hairdressers and barbers will once again be welcoming in customers on Thursday after more than three months of closed doors.
The Government is allowing hair salons to reopen for business a week before the COVID-19 Protection Framework comes into play at 11:59pm on December 2. Over the next week, hairdressers will trial the new My Vaccine Pass system, which will come into effect nationwide once the new framework is implemented. It rewards fully vaccinated Kiwis with pre-pandemic freedoms such as dining out, festivals, events, gyms - and haircuts.
Close-contact businesses must check customers' vaccine passes on entry to verify they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Businesses must use the system if they are to resume operating - if they opt not to, venues such as hospitality must continue with contactless trading and takeways, as required under alert level 3.
From today, fully vaccinated Aucklanders can get - for many - a much-needed cut or trim, as long as they book in advance and have downloaded their My Vaccine Pass. Hairdressers will be able to use the NZ Verifier Pass app, officially released on Tuesday, to verify their customers' passes.
Staff must also be fully vaccinated and operate as they would under alert level 2 - with masks and maintaining a 2m distance between customers. More information on operating close-contact services can be found here.
Hairdressers and barbers have been chosen to trial the vaccine pass system as there are typically fewer staff employed and customers in the space are often limited by the number of available chairs and hairdressers. Distancing between customers can also be easily maintained.
7:25am - Here's a recap of the Government's plan to gradually reopen New Zealand's international borders from January 2022:
- Fully vaccinated Kiwis and other eligible travellers will be able to return to New Zealand from Australia without staying in MIQ from 11:59pm on Sunday, January 16, 2022.
- Fully vaccinated Kiwis and other eligible travellers will be able to return to New Zealand from all other countries from 11:59pm on Sunday, February 13, 2022.
- All fully vaccinated individuals will be able to travel to New Zealand from April 30, 2022 onwards, with the re-opening staged over time. This date might change, or the overseas influx could be tailored by visa category.
- All international arrivals will be required to self-isolate at home for seven days upon entering New Zealand and present two negative tests - one on arrival and one before entering the community.
- The Very High-Risk classification for Indonesia, Fiji, India, Pakistan and Brazil will be removed early next month.
7:20am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak for Thursday, November 25.
Today marks Auckland's 100th day in lockdown. It also marks the day the city's hair salons can reopen to trial the new My Vaccine Pass system ahead of the transition to the COVID-19 Protection Framework.