New Zealand's first weekend of freedom is being widely hailed as a success following the country's transition to the COVID-19 Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, with one business owner saying it "felt like the good old days".
The weekend marked a return to some form of pre-pandemic normality, with fully vaccinated New Zealanders now able to enjoy relative freedom - with their mask and My Vaccine Pass.
Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast on Monday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was feeling "really positive" about New Zealand's 'new normal' - a sentiment also held by a number of businesses in Auckland, who were finally able to open their doors and welcome in customers after more than 100 days of restrictions.
What you need to know
- There are 135 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Monday - 125 in Auckland, eight in Waikatoy and two in Canterbury, which were initially reported on Sunday.
- Four people have also tested positive in Nelson-Tasman, however these cases will be added to Tuesday's tally.
- There are 76 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven 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.
- 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 has enjoyed its first weekend of freedom under the new 'traffic light' system, a weekend that is widely considered as a success.
- Keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest here.
These live updates have finished.
7:25pm - There are just five DHBs left that need to reach the 90 percent first dose vaccination rate.
There are Northland (5821 remaining), Lakes (99 remaining), Tairawhiti (626 remaining), Whanganui (767 remaining), and West Coast (114 remaining).
Four DHBs have surpassed the 90 percent fully vaccinated milestone. These are Waitemata, Auckland, Capital and Coast, and Canterbury.
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm for the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Watch online here or on Three.
5:35pm - At least 90 percent of Taranaki's eligible population has had their first COVID-19 vaccine.
5:05pm - There is one new location of interest. It is:
- Tauranga Central Police Station, December 5 from 2:44pm to 3pm.
4:43pm - The press conference has finished.
The big takeaway is that the Government has secured a second COVID-19 antiviral drug.
To read more about this, scroll down to the 4:05pm update.
4:39pm - Police have been doing compliance checks on businesses in Auckland, making sure they're following vaccine pass rules, Ardern says.
4:37pm - Ardern is expecting new public health advice on high-risk travel countries this week.
4:36pm - On fraudulent vaccine passes, Ardern says some venues can use photo ID or the verifier app to make sure the passes belong to the correct person.
She says the fact a venue could use either and that it's unknown to guest which will be asked for is a protection in itself.
4:33pm - How will antiviral treatments work? Dr Bloomfield says there will be a full briefing on Friday.
It's still very early days of the drug, he says, and it's important to note that it can be taken in the community because it's a tablet.
It will be useful for people who don't require hospitalisation, but may be at a higher risk of hospitalisation if they get sick.
4:29pm - On travel, Ardern says they aren't asking people to stay home, they want them to follow the rules.
Dr Bloomfield says the reason so much effort has gone into the vaccination drive was so that people could have a normal summer, and he says that's why the unvaccinated are limited in their movements.
He says "it's not about travel, per se" this summer, more about sick people not travelling.
4:25pm - On Omicron, Dr Bloomfield says there's "more speculation than fact" on the variant.
He says experts are watching Norway, where there's been an outbreak.
On Omicron in Australia, Ardern says at this stage, it's not changing the Government's plan to end isolation rules for trans-Tasman travel in January. But if presented with evidence it poses a threat, the Government will consider it.
Ardern adds it's a matter of "when, not if" Omicron arrives at the border.
4:20pm - Ardern says she's "not at all" encouraging nark culture by asking people to raise concerns about the traffic light system.
She also confirms that she has been asked to show her vaccine pass at venues and "that's the way it should be".
On COVID-19 in Gisborne, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who is also at the press conference, says there aren't any further wastewater test results.
4:17pm - Ardern says there have been a "reasonably small number of issues" and she asks for feedback to hear about it.
She says that any tweaks aren't substantial and she wants to make sure that retail stores know they don't need to check vaccine passes.
On takeaway shops now not requiring vaccine passes, Ardern says those places are more like retail, so staff don't need to be vaccinated.
4:15pm - Ardern says there isn't any evidence of fraudulent vaccine passports being a widepsread issue, and she says the verifier app will help and businesses can also use photo ID.
She adds they are working through how the public can make complaints and raise concerns.
Ardern says ticketing agencies are working on ways to build checks into the process, rather than checking verifier app at gates of large events.
4:12pm - New Zealand is projected to hit 90 percent double-dosed on either December 14 or 15.
The Auckland DHBs are also projected to reach this milestone on December 15.
4:10pm - Ardern says contact tracing and testing is still important.
Pfizer's drug works best at three to five days. A patient may have been sick for a few days, so contact tracing is still important, she adds.
4:08pm - Jacinda Ardern has arrived.
She is talking about Pfizer's antiviral drug that has been secured by New Zealand.
She says it will contribute to the new strategy to move on from restrictions. The treatment has an 89 percent reduction in hospitalisation and death.
Medsafe still needs to give approval for this drug.
4:05pm - New Zealand has secured supplies of another medicine to treat COVID-19, Health Minister Andrew Little has announced.
Aotearoa has already made an advanced purchase of new antiviral drug molnupiravir.
"Today I am pleased to say the national drug-funding agency Pharmac has secured from Pfizer 60,000 courses of another antiviral medicine which, like molnupiravir, can be taken as a tablet and used to stop people with mild symptoms becoming very sick," Little says.
"Vaccinations and following the scan-mask-pass routine are still the best ways of stopping the spread of COVID-19, but it's important we also have a range of medicines to treat those who do get sick.
"Alongside vaccinations, our hospital treatments are already reducing the likelihood of people needing ICU care, with the ICU rate in Auckland dropping to 3 percent of hospitalisations, down from 5.7 percent previously."
Molnupiravir works by introducing copying errors during replication, which means people are less likely to get a fully-functioning virus.
Pfizer's antiviral drug, which does not yet have a brand name in New Zealand, also inhibits replication but in a different way, by preventing the cleavage of certain proteins necessary to create a fully functioning virus, Little says.
"We've made sure Pharmac can continue to secure early access to new and promising COVID medicines as soon as possible, with $175 million allocated for medicines and supply-chain costs and another $300 million available for purchasing more COVID-19 therapeutics," he says.
"Both drugs are still subject to approval by Medsafe, but trials look promising, and by securing access to both we are doing everything possible to make sure New Zealanders have available medicines that are easy to administer and prevent most people who contract COVID-19 from being so sick they need to go to hospital."
The Pfizer anti-viral is expected to be delivered to New Zealand in April, once approved by MedSafe. Other COVID-19 medicines secured by Pharmac are baricitinib, remdesivir, tocilizumab, and Ronapreve.
Funding for all six medicines comes from the Government's COVID-19 fund.
3:50pm - We're about 10 minutes away from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's post-Cabinet press conference.
It comes after New Zealand's first weekend in the traffic light system, and 135 COVID-19 cases announced earlier today.
There aren't any decisions today about changes to the current traffic light settings. The next review for this is Monday December 13.
You can watch her press conference in the video player above.
3:20pm - There were 135 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, a small increase from the previous three days' low daily numbers.
Aside from the daily case numbers, you may have missed the details of the Ministry of Health's latest update.
Here's a breakdown of Monday's case numbers and data, including an update on the "several hundred" contacts linked to cases at two Nelson schools.
2:45pm - It appears tourists will benefit from the lifting of restrictions at the border next year - but separated couples and families will not, according to immigration lawyers and advocates.
It comes as the Government is taken to court this week for its handling of the issue of overseas partners during the pandemic.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced last month that all fully vaccinated individuals will be able to travel to New Zealand from April 30. But Immigration New Zealand's website later said the suspension of visa processing for most people overseas has been extended until at least August.
"That's going to mean further delays and we could be looking at well into 2023 until people can get their families into New Zealand," immigration lawyer Nick Mason told RNZ.
"I simply don't understand why it wasn't proactively announced. It feels like the positive stuff gets big fanfare and the stuff that might actually affect people's lives is hidden in the detail underneath.
"I did - and I know that other advisors had to - have some very difficult conversations for with clients who said, 'Finally I can get my family in in April', when we had to say, 'No look, the devil's in the detail and that won't be possible until at least August'."
That's been hard to take, he said, particularly as it seemed tourists not needing visas would be allowed in from April.
"It adds to the frustration - people started to see light at the end of the tunnel, particularly those people who are looking to get family members into New Zealand who are offshore, and there's no comfort that processing will recommence in August. And even if it does recommence there's going to be an awful backlog."
Advocates said the announcement got split families' hopes up momentarily, but they were dashed by the visa processing news and policies that "continue to marginalise, confuse and discriminate".
2:30pm - There are no new locations of interest so far on Monday - here's a recap of the potential exposure events added on Sunday:
2:15pm - Here are the latest vaccination rates across the Waikato region (data accurate as of 11:59pm, December 5 and is the latest available at TLA level):
Territorial local authority
1st doses as a pct of eligible population
Fully vaccinated as a pct of eligible population
South Waikato District
2pm - More than 20 studies into the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant have already been planned in England alone, according to Meaghan Kall, the lead epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency's COVID-19 Epidemiology Cell.
"These results will be published as they become available," Kall tweeted on Sunday (local time).
"There is an army of scientists working on it!"
University of Canterbury professor and COVID-19 data modeller Michael Plank shared the tweet on Monday.
"Some amazing science planned here - though spare a thought for the scientists whose holiday plans have just been iced," he wrote.
The studies include research into Omicron's transmissibility and infection severity.
1:50pm - After a chaotic year, with Auckland enduring more than 100 days of restrictions and 87 percent of the population now fully vaccinated, the economy is actually in pretty decent shape, says Westpac NZ CEO Catherine McGrath.
Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, McGrath suggested that Kiwis prepare themselves for a few "curveballs" as New Zealand gradually reopens and adapts to living with the virus. Drawing from her experience in the UK, people are going to need to embrace the uncertainty heading into 2022, she said.
"Being prepared for change and a bit of uncertainty will be a key thing to do in 2022," McGrath told The AM Show.
One of the financial lessons many learned from the pandemic is to have an emergency savings fund, with experts suggesting a minimum of three months' income). For those who haven't got a savings buffer in place, now is a good time to start one.
"Being financially prepared, so if the unexpected happens, you've got a bit more resilience, makes a lot of sense," McGrath added.
Those who are finding things a bit tight could front-foot the situation by talking to their bank about solutions, she suggested.
Hand-in-hand with being financially prepared, it's also important to be mentally prepared if things don't go to plan. For example, those planning a holiday could have a 'Plan B' in place if international travel is once again put on hold. Business owners, particularly those in hospitality and tourism, could start thinking about possible scenarios that would impact their business and what alternative strategies they could use to cope.
"Thinking through those scenarios where things mightn't go to plan and about what your business could do to adjust would be a really good thing to do [after a summer break]," McGrath added.
1:35pm - Meanwhile, across the Tasman, New South Wales has recorded 208 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday night (local time).
Twenty-five people have now tested positive for the Omicron variant in NSW.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has recorded 83,132 cases of COVID-19.
There are currently 152 people with COVID-19 in hospital, 24 of whom are in intensive care with five requiring ventilation.
1:27pm - Here are Monday's regional updates from the Ministry of Health:
* Today's cases
Today, we are reporting new community cases in Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury. The cases in Canterbury were first announced on Sunday but have been officially added to today's figures.
In addition, we are announcing four new cases in Nelson-Marlborough, which will be officially reported in Tuesday's figures.
One previously reported case has been reclassified as a border case. Therefore, the total number of cases associated with the outbreak has increased by 134, not 135.
We're continuing to ask anyone in New Zealand with symptoms – no matter how mild – to get tested, even if you're vaccinated. Please remain isolated until you return a negative result.
If you are not vaccinated, now is the time, as vaccination is the number one defence against COVID-19. Your District Health Board (DHB) or local health provider will have plenty of opportunities to make this happen.
Testing and vaccination centre locations nationwide can be found on the Healthpoint website.
Today, there are 125 new cases to report in Auckland. Public health staff are now supporting 3123 people to isolate at home, including 847 cases.
The number and location of testing sites are regularly assessed by staff to ensure there is good coverage of both testing and vaccination services.
There are eight new cases to report today in Waikato - five in Te Kūiti and one each in Huntly, Ōtorohanga and Ngāruawāhia.
All eight have been linked to previous cases.
Nine pop-up and dedicated testing sites are operating across Waikato today in Piopio, Hamilton, Te Kūiti, Taumarunui, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia and Ōtorohanga.
Meanwhile, across the region, public health staff are now supporting 108 cases to isolate at home. Two cases are receiving care at Waikato Hospital, including one in the intensive care unit.
Today we are announcing four new cases in Nelson-Tasman, all of which were reported after the official cut-off period. They will be officially added to Tuesday's figures.
Three are linked to existing cases and investigations into the possible source of the fourth new case are continuing.
Public health officials continue to manage several-hundred contacts associated with exposure events at two schools in Nelson. No further cases have been identified from these exposures to date.
People living in Nelson-Tasman are asked to keep checking for any new locations of interest.
Several pop-up testing sites are open in Nelson-Tasman today:
Saxton Fields carpark, Suffolk Rd, Stoke, 9am to 6pm
Richmond Showgrounds, 359 Lower Queen St, 9am to 6pm
Motueka Recreation Centre: Old Wharf Rd, Motueka, 9am to 1pm.
Anyone with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, even if they are mild and you are vaccinated, are asked to get a test.
1:26pm - There are 135 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Monday - here's the full statement from the Ministry of Health:
88 pct of eligible New Zealanders fully vaccinated; 135 community cases; 76 people in hospital, 7 in ICU
There have now been more than 3.7 million My Vaccine Passes issued, including more than 82,000 on Sunday. The first weekend with My Vaccine Passes in use went smoothly, with no major issues reported.
On Thursday night the Ministry of Health began emailing temporary exemptions to people who are waiting for individual assistance needed to obtain their My Vaccine Pass.
By Friday afternoon, 65,497 temporary exemptions had been provided.
There are still about 11,000 people whose email address or contact details were not clear, and we are working through this to provide them exemptions.
COVID-19 vaccine update
Total vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people): 7,736,783: 3,926,572 first doses (93 pct); 3,688,689 second doses (88 pct); 16,967 third primary doses; 104,555 booster doses
Total vaccines administered yesterday: 11,931: 2,711 first doses; 6,757 second doses, 103 third primary does and 2,360 booster doses.
Māori (percentage of eligible people): 481,808 first doses (84 pct); 409,577 second doses (72 pct)
Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people): 264,232 first doses (92 pct); second doses 241,617 (84 pct)
Total first and second vaccines administered to Auckland residents yesterday: 495 first doses; and 1,704 second doses
My Vaccine Passes issued: 82,448 issued yesterday; 3,742,580 issued in total
Vaccination rates by DHB (with active cases)
Northland DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (86 pct); second doses (79 pct)
Auckland Metro DHBs (percentage of eligible people): First doses (95 pct); second doses (91 pct)
Waikato DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (92 pct); second doses (86 pct)
Bay of Plenty DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (91 pct); second doses (83 pct)
Lakes DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (90 pct); second doses (81 pct)
MidCentral DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (93 pct); second doses (86 pct)
Whanganui DHB: First doses (89 pct); second doses (81 pct)
Hawke's Bay DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (92 pct); second doses (85 pct)
Nelson-Marlborough DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (93 pct); second doses (86 pct)
Canterbury DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (97 pct); second doses (91 pct)
Taranaki DHB (percentage of eligible people): First doses (91 pct); second doses (84 pct)
Cases in hospital: 76: Waitemata (14); Auckland (31); Counties Manukau (26); Waikato (2); Bay of Plenty (2), Nelson-Marlborough (1)
Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only): Unvaccinated or not eligible (42 cases / 60 pct); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (14 cases / 20 pct); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (9 cases/ 13 pct); unknown (5 cases / 7 pct)
Average age of current hospitalisations: 48
Cases in ICU or HDU: 7 (2 in Auckland; 3 in Middlemore, 1 in North Shore; 1 in Waikato)
Seven day rolling average of community cases: 126
Number of new community cases: 135
Number of new cases identified at the border: 0
Location of new community cases*: Auckland (125), Waikato (8), Canterbury (2)*
Location of community cases (total): Location of community cases (total): Northland 91 (64 of whom have recovered); Auckland 8,394 (2,417 of whom have recovered); Waikato 517 (265 of whom have recovered); Bay of Plenty 72 (3 of whom recovered); Hawke's Bay 3; Lakes 30 (20 of whom have recovered); Taranaki 8 (6 of whom have recovered); MidCentral 6 (3 have recovered); Whanganui 1; Wairarapa 3 (all recovered); Wellington 18 (all recovered); Nelson/Marlborough 16 (1 recovered); Canterbury 12 (5 of whom have recovered);
Number of community cases (total): 9171 (in current community outbreak)*
Confirmed cases (total): 11,961
Historical cases: 209** out of 10,157 cases since 1 January
Cases infectious in the community: 41 cases reported yesterday have exposure events
Cases in isolation throughout the period they were infectious: 58 cases reported yesterday have no exposure events
Cases epidemiologically linked: 51 of today's new cases
Cases to be epidemiologically linked: 84 of today's new cases
Cases epidemiologically linked (total): 6,770 (808 unlinked in the last 14 days)
** Today's one border case is historical
Number of active contacts being managed (total): 7,501
Percentage who have received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements): 70 pct
Percentage who have returned at least one result: 75 pct
Number of tests (total): 5,084,606
Number of tests total (last 24 hours): 18,237
Tests processed in Auckland (last 24 hours): 6,658
Tests rolling average (last 7 days): 27,810
Testing centres in Auckland: 18
Wastewater detections: No unexpected detections
NZ COVID Tracer
Registered users (total): 3,460,015
Poster scans (total): 565,953,983
Manual diary entries (total): 21,221,276
Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday: 2,905,163
12:35pm - While we wait for an update from the Ministry of Health, check out some more of our COVID-19 coverage:
- Could there be a summer lockdown? PM on what may trigger 'localised' restrictions
- 'Felt like the good old days': Traffic light system gets tick of approval after smooth first weekend
- Omicron variant doesn't appear to have a 'great degree of severity to it' but it's still early days - Dr Fauci
- COVID-19 latest: Omicron found in 15 American states, protests turn violent in Belgium
- 'Major problem': Alarm in South Africa over 'concerning' increase in children hospitalised with Omicron
- 'Have a Plan B': Bank CEO on how Kiwis can prepare financially and mentally for 2022.
12:20pm - There is no press conference today at 1pm - instead, the Ministry of Health will release a statement with the latest updates.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will front a post-Cabinet briefing at 4pm following New Zealand's first weekend under the COVID-19 Protection Framework. You will be able to watch that live on Newshub.
12:05pm - A new location of interest in Auckland was added to the Ministry of Health's list on Sunday, the first in the Super City since November 24.
Anyone who visited Kelly Tarlton's aquarium on Sunday, November 28 between 1pm and 2pm is asked to self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days after the date of exposure. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until a negative result is returned.
A spokesperson for Merlin Entertainments confirmed to Newshub the aquarium was open to the public on November 28 as the venue had officially reopened with reduced capacity under alert level 3, step 2.
"The official reopening day to the public was Thursday, November 11, as a public facility with reduced capacity in alert level 3, step 2," she said.
"All visitors to Sea Life Kelly Tarlton's on November 28 between 1pm and 2pm have, in keeping with Ministry of Health guidelines, been notified and recommended to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days. And if symptoms develop, to get a test and stay at home until they receive a negative test result."
11:50am - Staff at takeaway-only hospitality businesses no longer have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 - despite the Government initially saying they needed to be double-jabbed.
Two weeks ago, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said all staff in the hospitality sector needed to have their first vaccination by the time the 'traffic light' system came into effect on Friday, December 3.
But on Friday night, the official food and drink service guidelines were changed to say if a business is takeaway-only and does not provide on-site dining, its workers do not need to be vaccinated. If a business opts to not ask for vaccine passes when customers come to collect, they can also continue operating as a takeaway.
An owner of a national takeaway chain Stuff spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, said the Government’s original advice resulted in her having to fire two unvaccinated full-time staff members. Due to a staff shortage, the chain also couldn't open one of its stores. All up, the mandate cost the business about $20,000 and resulted in emotional distress for the two workers, she said.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois told Stuff it received an email at 7pm on Friday from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) COVID-19 business advice team confirming the change.
11:40am - In case you missed it, a South African doctor says the Omicron variant appears to cause more severe symptoms in children than previous strains of the coronavirus.
The "variant of concern" - the discovery of which prompted a series of nations to slap travel restrictions on southern Africa, where the variant first emerged - is thought to be more transmissible than earlier strains. However, initial observations have suggested that most patients are experiencing more mild symptoms than those who contract the highly infectious Delta variant.
Work is still underways by experts worldwide to fully understand Omicron, including its infectiousness and the current selection of vaccines are effective at reducing its spread and severity.
But Dr Rudo Mathivha, the head of intensive care of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, says the variant appears to be more dangerous to children. It comes as officials in South Africa report an increase in under-12s being hospitalised with the virus.
"The situation is pretty concerning because this is not something that we had observed with the first, second and third wave," she told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). "In the past, the children used to get COVID infection and they would just treat it like any other childhood viral illness and it wouldn't really put them down, it wouldn't really send them to hospital in big number to be admitted.
"We are now seeing them coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in hospital for quite a number of days."
Dr Mathivha said there are also a number of cases among young adults in their 20s, although mostly among people who are unvaccinated. Like in New Zealand, children under 12 in South Africa are not yet eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
11:25am - Auckland's stricken hospitality businesses finally opened their doors this weekend after more than three months of restrictions - but despite the shift to the traffic light system being a welcome move for many, 72 percent of operators said they found the transition challenging.
"Whilst 27 percent of our members reported a smooth transition, unfortunately two thirds of businesses experienced issues in rolling out the new operation guidelines," Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association, said on Monday.
Forty percent of respondents experienced issues with rude or aggressive customers while 45 percent said customers did not understand the new regulations.
One fifth said they experienced issues with operating the new technology, which involves using an app to verify customers' My Vaccine Passes upon entry.
"Our Auckland-based businesses are glad that they are finally able to start on premise dining but the challenges are really disappointing to hear about," Bidois said.
"We're confident that as diners and hospitality workers become more used to the [passes], these [issues] will iron out as we all become more familiar with the system."
11:10am - New research from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) shows many shops are practicing what AUT marketing experts, Jessica Vredenburg and Megan Phillips, refer to as "hygiene theatre".
'Hygiene theatre' refers to when retailers visibly carry out cleaning and sanitising practices in front of their customers to give clear signals, or cues, that they are taking steps to protect patrons' safety.
The academic research suggests when customers watch an employee wiping down the checkout, see a hand sanitisation station at the store entrance, or read signage outlining store cleaning and sanitisation policies, their perception of 'risk' is reduced.
As a result, customers feel more comfortable shopping in that space.
However, hygiene theatre has also been criticised for being too performative and creating a false sense of security.
10:55am - Jacinda Ardern has asked for patience as businesses and individuals alike acclimatise to the 'new normal' under the COVID-19 Protection Framework, noting that a slow and steady progression through the three-step system is better than "pulling the brakes too quickly".
"We've seen enough from overseas that if you just pull the brakes off too quickly it can end in disaster and a quick flip back into restrictions - we don't want that we've always done things our way and caution has paid off," she told RNZ's Morning Report on Monday.
Ardern also said that councils across the country can make their own decisions as to whether My Vaccine Passes are required to enter public facilities. As the regions moved into their respective 'traffic light' settings, some councils decided not to implement the use of vaccine passes at their facilities, while others made the certificates mandatory for entry.
"We haven't required them across retail and public facilities because those are places where people can continue to use masks and be physically distanced," Ardern explained. "It doesn't mean that a retailer or a council may themselves determine that they want to use them, that is their prerogative - but it's not something we've mandated."
10:45am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the first weekend in the 'traffic light' system has received largely positive feedback.
New Zealand is now in day four of the COVID-19 Protection Framework and despite the return to relative freedom, many people are still acclimatising to the 'new normal'.
Ardern told RNZ's Morning Report on Monday that to her knowledge, there have not been widespread issues with people using fake My Vaccine Passes to enter businesses and venues. However, she said the Government will remain in contact with the Business Association to work out any issues that may crop up.
"By and large the feedback has been really positive, particularly given it is a big shift for many... there will be the odd thing that we'll need to keep ironing out," she said. "We'll be keeping in close contact with the hospitality association [and] the retailers just to hear and understand where there are issues that we can resolve together.
"Police have already said that across their districts they're not reporting major issues, they have obviously been undertaking spot checks."
Ardern also defended the Government's cautious approach after newly minted National Party leader, Christopher Luxon, questioned Cabinet's call to place Auckland under the Red setting of the 'traffic light' system, the most restrictive stage.
"We're in a transition phase and while we're in that transition phase, we do want to make sure we step into this easing carefully and that's ultimately because the lower the numbers, the more effective our systems can be," Ardern said.
"Contact tracing and isolation we know has a significant impact on the number of cases you have in a community, so we want to make sure that we don't have those systems overwhelmed. The best way we can do that is to keep in place public health measures that we know make a difference: gathering limits, mask use and making sure we're using passes and scanning."
10:30am - Data suggests a small number of New Zealanders are still taking holidays abroad, according to a report published by RNZ on Monday morning.
In the nine weeks from July 23 - the day the trans-Tasman travel bubble burst - Stats New Zealand has recorded 180 overseas holidays where people were required to stay in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) on their return to Aotearoa.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to advise Kiwis not to travel internationally.
The data is drawn from passenger arrival cards and what people selected as the main reason for their travel. It excludes 8439 New Zealanders who took quarantine-free trips to the Cook Islands, which also had a travel arrangement in place with New Zealand until August 17 - the day the first case in the latest outbreak was detected.
A country in the South Pacific without a travel bubble - Tonga - has still seemingly managing to lure in a trickle of holidaymakers, with 108 trips to the island nation deemed a "holiday/vacation".
The second most popular destination was the US - where there were 18 holidays - followed by France and Greece, where there were nine holidays each. Six trips to China have also been recorded.
Other people ventured further off the beaten track with three holiday trips to Slovenia, three to Namibia, and three to the Maldives.
The average length of travellers' holidays was 15 days, followed by 14 days in MIQ.
In the same nine weeks until September 30, people took 913 trips to visit family and friends and 351 trips for business to places excluding the Cook Islands.
10:20am - New Zealand's newfound freedom, coupled with Auckland's reopening on December 15, could be a recipe for a "surge" in infections, says one expert.
Speaking to Newshub, COVID-19 data modeller Professor Michael Plank said the possible spike in cases would not become evident until "quite close to Christmas" - 10 days after Auckland's regional boundary lifts on Wednesday next week.
When Auckland's border reopens, two-way travel in and out of the region will resume for the first time in about four months. As the epicentre of the ongoing outbreak, movement to and from Auckland has been highly restricted to prevent the virus spreading rapidly throughout the country.
While the rate of transmission appear to have eased in recent days - with the number of cases dropping below 100 on Friday for the first time in more than a month - the country's transition to the 'traffic light' system last week and Auckland's reopening could cause infections to increase significantly, Plank said.
"It's possible we will see a surge in cases following on from the move to the traffic light system. It usually takes one to two weeks for that to show up in the case numbers," he told Newshub.
"It's likely to be into next week before we really start to see that. We'll be getting quite close to Christmas really by the time that comes through in the case numbers."
10:05am - A South African doctor has warned that more children are being hospitalised with moderate to severe symptoms following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Dr Rudo Mathivha, Head of Intensive Care at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, said the shift in demographics is highly concerning, with the number of hospitalised patients increasing significantly.
Speaking to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Mathivha said a 15-year-old with COVID-19 had recently died after their condition rapidly deteriorated. A 17-year-old with coronavirus-related pneumonia has also been placed on a ventilator in intensive care, she said. It's not yet clear if both contracted the Omicron variant.
"The situation is pretty concerning," Mathivha said. "In the past, the children used to get a COVID infection … and it wouldn't really put them down, it wouldn't really send them to hospital... we are now seeing [children] coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in hospital for quite a number of days.
"But what really broke my heart yesterday was a 15-year-old previously well child, no illness. Two day history of fever, comes into the hospital, tests positive for COVID and literally deteriorates in front of our eyes and nothing, no supportive therapy that we could do could help him. And we lost that patient … this is the first incident [here] of a child who had no comorbidities and nothing existing before who has passed from COVID that I am aware of."
On Saturday, the South African government said the Omicron variant is disproportionately affecting children under five, despite other reports suggesting the variant is not causing severe illness. Like New Zealand, children under the age of 12 in South Africa are not currently eligible for vaccination.
Government adviser Waasila Jassat told reporters there has been "quite a sharp increase" in hospital admissions "across all age groups, but particularly in the under five" bracket.
"The incidence in those under five is now second highest, second only to those over 60," she said.
9:50am - From December 15, eligible people aged 12 years, three months and over must be fully vaccinated to use Department of Conservation (DOC) accommodation.
Only fully vaccinated Kiwis will be able to use DOC's huts, campsites, lodges and other sole occupancy facilities, according to the agency's vaccination policy.
"This is to ensure those using huts and campsites don't put themselves or others at unnecessary risk while enjoying our great outdoors this summer," it said.
When booking, visitors will be required to confirm they, and all others in their group, have received both jabs.
When using any of the applicable facilities, people must be able to provide proof of vaccination with either a digital or printed copy of their My Vaccine Pass.
9:40am - With active cases now found in 13 District Health Boards (DHBs) - and it being less than 10 days until Auckland's regional border reopens - there are concerns that infections may surge over Christmas and the summer season.
While the rate of infection appears to have eased in recent days - dropping below 100 on Friday for the first time in more than a month - the move out of lockdown for Auckland last week, and transition to the 'traffic light' system for the country - could lead to a spike in cases, modeller Professor Michael Plank told Newshub.
"It's possible we will see a surge in cases following on from the move to the traffic light system. It usually takes one to two weeks for that to show up in the case numbers," he said.
Most of New Zealand is in the Orange setting of the traffic light system, which means there are no limits on gatherings, events and hospitality if My Vaccine Passes are in play. At Red, where Auckland is currently sitting - as well as lower vaccinated regions - there are caps of up to 100, even with vaccine passports.
"It's a bit tricky to predict what will happen over summer," Prof Plank said. "Schools being on holiday, you know, that might reduce the potential for transmission in the community.
"But then of course, when we get back into the swing of things next year and schools start going back, it's possible that's when we'll start to see a more sustained increase in case numbers."
9:35am - Appearing on The AM Show on Monday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked whether a region could possibly be placed in lockdown over the summer in the event of a localised outbreak.
"I'm not anticipating that that will occur. There's nothing to suggest that that will occur," the Prime Minister said. "The framework that we've just moved into has the option of localised lockdowns if that is required, but it's not, as you can see, part of the core framework."
The detailed outline of the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system) says the system is intended to reduce the need for "widespread lockdown", but that "localised protections and lockdowns" can still be used "to control high rates of transmission".
"The restrictions implemented will consider specific circumstances and the nature of the public health response required," the framework says. Those restrictions could include stay-at-home orders, the closure of premises such as schools or retail stores, restrictions on gatherings and restrictions on movements in and out of locked-down areas.
So what would be the criteria for a localised lockdown?
"If you have, for instance, an outbreak... that is growing, that is putting pressure on a hospital system, where we've got a community of low vaccination rates, all of those things may contribute to that decision," Ardern told The AM Show.
"But when we say localised, you won't see a situation where the entire country or all of Auckland [is locked-down], we're talking localised... if we have a significant number of cases, pressure, and low vaccination rates.
"Nothing would happen suddenly, though, and that's a big shift from where we've been before. So in the past, it's often been just a press statement and announcement in the afternoon that we've had a case and we're all going into a change in system. It won't be like that in the future. You will see if there's an issue and if it's growing… a bit more warning."
9:30am - Here's a recap of the regional updates for Sunday:
- Northland: There were three new cases to report in Northland. Two are close contacts of previously reported cases, based in Kaitaia, and have already been isolating. The third is an essential worker, based in Whangarei, who regularly travels to Auckland for work. This person tested positive due to routine surveillance testing.
- Waikato: There were eight new cases to report in Waikato - two in Hamilton, two in Te Kūiti, three in Piopio (near Te Kūiti) and one in Huntly. Seven have been linked to known cases and the eighth case is under investigation.
- Whanganui: There was one case to report in Whanganui. It appears the person recently travelled out of the city and is likely to have links to previously reported cases outside of the region. The person became symptomatic on Thursday, was tested on Friday, and received their result on Saturday. Since their swab, the person has been isolating in a dedicated facility.
- Canterbury: There were two new cases to report in Canterbury, both of which were reported to the ministry after its 9am cut-off and will be included in Monday's figures. Another case was initially reported on Saturday and formally added to Sunday's tally. That person has been clearly linked to other cases in the Nelson-Tasman region and has been isolating. Of the two latest cases, one is a young child from the same household and one is a close contact of Saturday's case. All three have been transferred to a MIQ facility.
9:20am - Here's a recap of Sunday's figures:
- There were 106 new cases recorded on Sunday - three in Northland, 93 in Auckland, eight in Waikato, one in Whanganui and one in Canterbury.
- Seventy-seven people are currently in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care or high dependency units.
- Two DHBs, Auckland and Capital and Coast, have now vaccinated 90 percent of their eligible Māori population with a first dose.
- Eighty-eight percent of the eligible population nationwide (those aged 12 and over) are now fully vaccinated.
9:10am - Rhythm and Alps 2021 has been given the green light to begin on December 29 as planned, with the South Island now under the 'Orange' setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
The event will take place over three days in Wanaka's Cardrona Valley. Entry to the festival will be overseen by 'COVID ambassadors', with extra customer service in place to help attendees access the site under the new guidelines.
Festival director Alex Turnbull says the event's ticketing partner, Ticket Fairy, has already integrated the new My Vaccine Pass technology into their system, meaning punters can upload their pass to their account for verification. Their ticket will then be marked as valid for entry.
"To do this, all festival attendees must log in prior to arriving at Rhythm & Alps and connect their vaccine passports," Turnbull said in a statement.
"The ticket scanning system will show their vaccine status alongside their usual ticket status, without needing to scan both the ticket and the passport separately.
"We are confident this is a secure and simple way to apply vaccine passports to festivals and clear instructions will be sent to all customers within the next few days, with ongoing reminders throughout December."
Around 10,000 partygoers and more than 6000 campers are expected to attend.
9am - Monday marked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's last appearance on The AM Show for the year.
Over the last few months, Ardern and host Ryan Bridge have frequently argued in a number of fiery interviews - particularly regarding the Government's COVID-19 response.
The AM Show took a look back at some of the Prime Minister's highlights from 2021 - including the best of Ardern and Bridge butting heads.
8:55am - Many businesses are giving the new 'traffic light' system a tick of approval after the first weekend of relative freedom.
Auckland bar manager Grady Elliott told RNZ the city came alive with customers, many of whom flocked to hospitality venues - which are now able to operate with a maximum of 100 seated patrons if My Vaccine Passes are used.
"It felt like the good old days, almost back to normality. People were out, restaurants were full, people were sitting on the footpath and it was trickling down to K [Karangahape] Rd."
He said for the most part, the evenings ran smoothly.
"They know the rules. Friday night was really busy, Saturday dropped off a little bit. Everybody was really good, they all turned up with their passports and we turned away two people who were non-vaxxed," he said.
The South Island is in the Orange setting - if My Vaccine Passes are used, bars and restaurants can operate without caps on customers.
"I was out both Friday and Saturday night even though I've got two kids," Annabel Turley, chair of the Christchurch Central City Business Association, told RNZ.
"The city was absolutely humming. I just felt so stoked for all of those hospitality operators, just finally they're back to operating like they normally are."
She said the vaccine passes are so far working seamlessly.
"Everyone's checking them when people are coming in, or verifying them, so it has actually worked really well."
8:50am - The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread to about one-third of US states, but the Delta strain still accounts for the majority of its cases nationwide, local health officials said on Sunday.
Though the emergence of the new variant has prompted international alarm, Dr Anthony Fauci, America's leading infectious disease official, told CNN that so far, the strain does not appear to cause severe illness.
"Thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it," he said, adding it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions and more research is required.
Fauci also expressed hope that the US will lift its ban on travellers from southern Africa in a "reasonable period of time".
"We all feel very badly about the hardship that that might have put upon not only South Africa but the other African countries," he said.
At least 15 US states have reported cases of the Omicron variant: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.
Many of the cases are among fully vaccinated individuals, who have presented mild symptoms - although it's currently unclear whether all have received their booster shot.
8:40am - Fifteen states in the US have recorded cases of the Omicron variant, a strain that has prompted international panic despite little being understood about its infectiousness.
Meanwhile in Belgium, protests against government-imposed restrictions turned violent in Brussels on Sunday, with police firing teargas and using water cannons to disperse the unruly crowds, who pelted officers with cobblestones and fireworks.
Across the Tasman, Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children between five and 11. The rollout is expected to begin on January 10, once the vaccine has been approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
8:35am - As Kiwis make plans for their summer getaways, leading epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker is urging Aucklanders not to stay with unvaccinated people to avoid spreading COVID-19.
Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast on Monday morning, Baker said despite the high rates of vaccination in the Super City, the virus will continue to circulate - particularly as Aucklanders enjoy newfound freedom under the 'traffic light' system.
"This is uncharted territory at the moment. We've had 18 months with the very effective alert level system ... and this is a whole new world," he said.
Auckland's regional boundary is set to lift on December 15, allowing Aucklanders to escape the region after months of highly restricted travel. Baker says any prospective holidaymakers should be getting tested before their trips - and children are not exempt.
"If there are children in the household, get at least one of them tested before heading away. Because if there is COVID in the household, it is likely young children - who are not eligible for vaccinations - will have contracted the virus at that point," he explained.
If Aucklanders are planning to stay with family or friends outside of the region, he stressed the importance of ensuring everyone is vaccinated.
If Aucklanders are due to visit loved ones who are unvaccinated, Baker recommends making "alternative plans" to keep everyone safe. Precautions should be taken to protect the elderly, the immunocompromised, or those who have underlying health conditions.
"They are very vulnerable to get this infection. It won't happen every time, but it will happen often enough that we could see some real tragedies around the country," he told Breakfast.
"Really, I don't think anyone from Auckland should go and stay with unvaccinated people. I think that could be a real disaster."
8:25am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is feeling "really positive" following New Zealand's first weekend in the new 'traffic light' framework.
"I think we can feel confident moving forward into the new framework and into our new way of doing things," she told TVNZ's Breakfast on Monday morning.
Regarding the new My Vaccine Pass system, Ardern said the general consensus from businesses is that it's working well so far.
"I was asking anywhere I went... how it had been going and so far, yeah, good."
Ardern said she has heard anecdotes that some people were attempting to use fake passes, but there is no "hard data".
"This will be one of the things we will keep an eye on."
Ardern also acknowledged the hard work of New Zealanders in a post to Instagram over the weekend.
"Here we are, with incredible vaccination rates, easing restrictions but in a way that is careful and still focused on keeping people safe," she wrote.
"For the last 20 months, we haven't necessarily known where COVID would take us, but I've always believed, that no matter what, we could could do this. We could get through. And we will. Look after yourselves everyone!"
8:15am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak for Monday, December 6.