Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16

New Zealand has its first case of Omicron in a Christchurch managed isolation facility, Dr Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.

It comes as the Government announced ninety percent of eligible New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That follows an intensive, four-month vaccination roll-out, which ramped up in August following the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant in Auckland's community. 

Thousands of people gathered outside Parliament on Thursday in protest of vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.

What you need to know:

  • There is one case of Omicron in a Christchurch MIQ facility.
  • There are 91 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Thursday - 55 in Auckland, seven in Waikato, 10 in Bay of Plenty, one in Lakes and 16 in Taranaki, 15 of which were first reported on Wednesday.
  • Fifty-eight people are in hospital, four of whom are in intensive care or high dependency units.
  • Sixteen people have now tested positive for COVID-19 in Eltham, Taranaki as part of a "growing cluster" associated with a case reported over the weekend. The majority of the cases are pupils at a local school.  
  • Ninety percent of eligible New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated.
  • The paediatric version of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine has been granted provisional approval by Medsafe for use in five-to-11-year-olds.
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest here.

This article is no longer being updated.

6:20pm - The full Ministry of Health statement on Omicron: 

Whole genome sequencing has detected New Zealand’s first case of the Omicron variant in a recent international arrival who tested positive in a day 0/1 test at a Christchurch managed isolation facility. 

The case arrived in Auckland from Germany via Dubai on December 10 and flew to an MIQ in Christchurch on an aircraft chartered for international arrivals.

After testing positive, they were moved from the Crowne Plaza Managed Isolation facility to the Sudima Christchurch Airport dual-use Managed Isolation and Quarantine facility. 

The case is fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

 Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that while the arrival of a new variant is concerning, New Zealand is well placed to manage Omicron cases.

 "We knew it would be a case of when, not if, Omicron arrived on New Zealand’s shores – our health and MIQ teams around the country have been planning for it. 

"With a strong border, we are prepared to detect Omicron cases in international arrivals and manage them appropriately.

"Whole genome sequencing on every COVID-19 case detected at the border remains a critical element in our defence against COVID-19.

"We know how rapidly Omicron has spread globally, so it’s been important to make sure every border case detected undergoes urgent genome sequencing.

"We have been doing everything we can to prepare for Omicron and to keep it out of the community since the variant was first identified.

"Our vaccine rollout remains our key defence against all variants of COVID-19, including Omicron. With 90% of the eligible population now double-dosed, and the booster programme underway, New Zealanders are well protected. We want vaccinations to continue increasing and ask everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated."

Contact tracing is underway to identify passengers who were on the international and domestic flights with the case who has the Omicron variant.

As a precautionary measure, all passengers on the flights with the case are required to complete all ten days at a managed isolation facility – rather than spending the last three days of their isolation period in self-isolation. 

Joint Head of MIQ, Chris Bunny, says the managed isolation facility is well set up to care for these people and protect the community.

"Managed Isolation and Quarantine takes the safety of workers and their families, whānau and broader communities very seriously.

"All Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities follow strict infection prevention controls developed by the Ministry of Health to manage the risks of spreading COVID-19. The Ministry of Health’s advice is to continue with our rigorous MIQ IPC protocols.

"At every MIQ facility returnees must remain physically distant from each other, and from staff members, at all times.

"At a quarantine facility, returnees cannot leave their room freely. They must stay in their room unless they have a medical appointment, are on their specified fresh air or smoking time or there is an emergency, such as a fire or an earthquake.

"Staff wear full PPE when escorting returnees to and from their rooms. Returnees are required to wear PPE in line with Ministry of Health guidelines while outside their room. Health staff conducting health checks wear full PPE (face shield, gown and gloves) and do not enter quarantine rooms.

 The Sudima Christchurch Airport dual-use Managed Isolation and Quarantine facility has a very strict Infection Prevention and Control measures in place developed by the Ministry of Health to manage the risks of spreading COVID-19 – as do all MIQ facilities. The staff at these facilities are experienced in managing and caring for positive cases.

 Any further information on the case and next steps will be made available tomorrow.  

6pm - The Taranaki DHB has confirmed three further COVID-19 cases on Thursday afternoon, taking the region's total to 23 cases. Two of these are linked to previously reported cases in Eltham and are isolating at home in the area.

"Taranaki DHB’s Public Health Unit (PHU) has said that, at this stage, the third case is not linked to any of the previously reported cases in New Plymouth, Waitara, Eltham or Hāwera. The unlinked case is from New Plymouth and currently isolating at home.

"Case investigation work is underway to identify any close contacts and locations of interest, but the PHU is advising people not to delay getting tested if they have any symptoms at all, no matter how mild.


Community testing is available on Friday 17 December at the following locations:

  • Taranaki Base Hospital testing centre from 9am – 3pm
  • Hawera Hospital testing centre from 10am – 2pm
  • Eltham Kohanga Reo, 24 York Street, 10am – 1pm (run by Ngaruahine)

4:30pm - Asked if Omicron was found in the community, would he recommend a lockdown, Dr Bloomfield says: "We would just have to see what the situation was".

Under the current framework, there is a provision for localised lockdowns, he says. 

When we went into lockdown in August, the vaccination rate was a lot lower, Dr Bloomfield says. We need to have as much time as possible to learn about Omicron, he says. We will be learning from the Australian experience.

He is discussing with ministers on Friday whether to shorten the period between second and booster doses of the vaccine.

The case is double-vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr Bloomfield says having southern African nations on the very high-risk travel list is not very helpful considering Omicron is now around the world.

4:25pm - The Director-General says there are "very good" infection prevention protocols in place. Everyone staying in MIQ for the full ten days need to test negative on day nine before leaving.

"We have every intention of keeping Omicron out of the country for as long as possible," he says.

He believes we are "very well-prepared".

Dr Bloomfield isn't sure which MIQ hotel the person was in. The case is now at the Sudima.

4:20pm - Speaking to reporters, Dr Bloomfield has confirmed the Omicron case at a Christchurch MIQ.

They came to New Zealand from Germany via Dubai. They arrived in Auckland before travelling to Christchurch on a charter flight with all the usual health protocols in place. The person was tested on Day 1, with the positive test result coming back on Day 2 - that's December 12. 

Another case from that flight has been confirmed, but the whole genome sequencing for them shows it is the Delta variant.

He says every border case is being treated as if they are Omicron. 

Dr Bloomfield is confident with protocols in place. They have been reviewed over the last week, with one change being that anyone on a flight with a Omicron case is being considered a close contact. That's also the case for anyone on the same hotel floor as the case. They finish their full isolation period at MIQ.

4pm - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will hold a press conference at 4:20pm on Thursday to address the Omicron case found in New Zealand. Newshub will livestream that above.

3:45pm - Newshub can confirm there is a case of Omicron in a managed isolation facility in Christchurch.

3:25pm - Stuff is reporting that there is a case of Omicron in managed isolation in Christchurch.

No further details are available. This would be the first case of Omicron in New Zealand.

3:15pm - There are 10 new locations of interest. They are:

  • Smart India Restaurant Te Puke, December 7 from 11:30am to 1pm
  • CR Dairy Eltham, December 8 from 5pm to 5:30pm
  • Eltham Dairy and Lotto Eltham, December 8 from 5pm to 5:30pm
  • Eltham Athletics Club Taumata Park Eltham, December 9 from 6pm to 7pm
  • Event Cinemas Tauranga Crossing, December 10 from 5pm to 8:30pm
  • Kmart Palmerston North, December 11 from 11:30am to 12:30pm
  • Windermere Farms Cafe Windermere, December 11 from 3pm to 3:30pm
  • Countdown Te Puke, December 13 from 11:30am to 1pm
  • New World Te Puke, December 14 from 10:15am to 1pm
  • Super Clearance Te Puke, December 15 from 12:15pm to 2:30pm.

3pm - A COVID-19 modelling expert is calling for plans to open up trans-Tasman travel with Australia to be "immediately postponed".

David Welch, a computational biologist at the University of Auckland, is also calling for the definition of 'fully vaccinated' to be changed from a standard two-dose course to three shots.

Sticking to the Government's current reopening plan under the traffic light system - which depends heavily on people being 'fully vaccinated' - could easily result in our biggest outbreak yet, says Welch.

"Omicron is globally the fastest spreading variant we have seen. Multiple countries - including those with very good surveillance such as South Africa, Denmark, UK, Australia - are seeing large and rapid outbreaks where the doubling time for daily cases is about two-three days, which means that 10 daily cases can become 10,000 daily cases in less than a month."

Read more here.

2:45pm - Two more locations of interest have been identified, both in Tauranga - Yoku Sushi Downtown and BP in Te Puna.

Two potential exposure events identified today have been classified as 'high risk' by the Ministry of Health, meaning those who were at the venue or business at the specified date and time are considered close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19. 

These two locations are Tauranga Citizens Club in Tauranga South and Parent and Baby Room, Tauranga Crossing, in Tauriko.

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.

2:30pm - Like previous variants of COVID-19, Omicron presents a new range of early-onset symptoms to watch out for, according to South African scientists.

The new variant of the virus was first detected less than a month ago, but is already the dominant strain of the virus in London and is expected to take over from the highly infectious Delta strain as Europe's dominant variant by early 2022.

Data released by South Africa's largest private health insurance administrator Discovery Health on Wednesday (NZ time) found vaccinated people are more likely to contract Omicron than the Delta strain. It also found that while a double-vaccinated person is still less likely to end up in hospital, protection offered by a vaccine drops from 93 percent (against Delta) to just 70 when presented with Omicron.

Discovery chief executive Ryan Noach has now revealed the data - covering 78,000 Omicron cases - shows the earliest symptoms of an infection are slightly different to those of previous strains. 

The most common is a scratchy throat, followed by nasal congestion, a dry cough and muscle aches in the lower back, The Telegraph reported

UK analysis backed up the South African data.

"I think one of the things we do know is the clinical syndrome is rather different," University of Oxford chair of medicine Sir John Bell told BBC Radio 4. "The symptoms people get from this particular virus are different to the previous variants."

He said a "stuffy nose" is also common during the early stage of an infection. 

People who contracted the original strain of COVID-19, which emerged in early 2020, often reported losing their sense of smell or taste before other symptoms developed.

Delta, which likely evolved in India in 2020 ahead of the nation's massive wave of infection in early 2021, brought early symptoms more like the common cold, with fewer experiencing a loss of sense of smell or taste. 

Unvaccinated people seem to be more susceptible to early symptoms than the vaccinated, South African doctor Angelique Coetzee told Sky News.

"Unvaccinated patients seem to experience the severity of the myalgia and headache more intensely than our vaccinated patients."

Read more here.

2:20pm - In case you missed it, 90 percent of eligible New Zealanders - those aged 12 and over - are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We've now reached 90 percent fully vaccinated across the country - that means 3,788,151 New Zealanders have rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their whānau, friends and communities," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in his announcement on Thursday. 

It was initially revealed that New Zealand had hit the milestone on Wednesday, the last sitting day for the House this year. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that the 90 percent target had been achieved, but it wouldn't be officially announced until Thursday. 

"We knew yesterday we'd reached the milestone, and now that the official count is through, we can formally recognise the hard work of everyone who has played their part, and who are continuing to do their bit," Hipkins said. 

"Their commitment means all New Zealanders are safer and more protected, and can get back to doing the things they love, whether it's travelling to catch up with friends and family for Christmas, heading out to restaurants, pubs and cafes, or enjoying the many festivals and outdoor events planned for the summer."

Read more here.

2:10pm - Medical regulatory body Medsafe has provisionally approved the paediatric version of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for tamariki aged five to 11 years old.

The approval is for two doses administered at least 21 days apart. If approved by Cabinet, the roll-out is expected to start by the end of January. Medicines regulators in Australia and the US have also granted emergency approval for the vaccine in children.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, an expert in infectious diseases at University of Auckland's School of Medical Sciences, says she is "thrilled" to hear the paediatric vaccine has passed its first regulatory checkpoint in New Zealand.

"With Delta in the community and Omicron knocking on our doors, having a safe and effective vaccine for five-to-11-year-olds is crucial for preventing long-term health problems and saving lives and livelihoods. Every parent and caregiver will want this vaccine to have undergone the necessary scrutiny, so they can be confident that vaccinating their children is safe and the right decision to protect both them and their whānau," Wiles said on Thursday.

"Now we need to begin to prepare to roll-out the vaccine as soon as possible so that children are protected before they return to school next year. We must learn from the mistakes of the adult vaccine roll-out and design a programme in true partnership with Māori and Pacific people that will ensure an equitable rollout that prioritises those communities most hard to reach and at risk."

1:27pm - The protest in Parliament has come to an end, with demonstrators finishing the proceedings with a haka.

A series of speakers addressed the crowd from outside the Beehive as thousands congregated on the grounds of Parliament. The throngs of protesters first rallied at Civic Square before beginning their procession through the streets of central Wellington.

Police maintained a strong presence throughout the demonstration, with a line of officers stationed on Parliament's forecourt.

1:16pm - Here are today's regional updates from the Ministry of Health:

Today's cases

Today, we are reporting new community cases in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes and Taranaki.

Regional updates

We are continuing to ask anyone in New Zealand with symptoms, no matter how mild, to get tested - even if you're vaccinated. Please stay at home until you return a negative result.

Testing and vaccination centre locations nationwide can be found via Healthpoint.


There are two new cases to report in Ruakākā today. The cases are known contacts of a previously reported case and were already isolating when they tested positive.

A full list of testing and vaccination sites open in Northland can be found on the Northland DHB website.


Today, there are 55 new cases to report in Auckland. 

Health and welfare providers are now supporting 1970 people to isolate at home, including 504 cases.


There are seven cases to report in Waikato today - five are in Hamilton, one in Te Kūiti and one in Waihi.

This person was tested outside of Waihi and will be isolating at home from today. At this stage there are no locations of interest to report in Waihi as any exposure events occurred outside of the town.

Four of the cases have been linked to previous infections and two are under investigation.

One new location of interest was confirmed in Matamata on Wednesday.

There are 10 pop-up and dedicated testing sites operating throughout Waikato today with sites in Hamilton, Te Kūiti, Ngāruawāhia, Huntly, Taumarunui, Tokoroa, Putāruru and Ōtorohanga. 

Public Health, primary care and manaaki providers in the region are supporting 68 cases to isolate at home.

Bay of Plenty

There are 11 cases to report in Bay of Plenty today. Of these, eight are in the Tauranga area and three are in the wider western Bay of Plenty.

These 11 individuals are still being investigated for potential links to previously reported cases. Contacts are being identified and will be contacted for testing and isolation advice.


Today we are reporting one new case in the Lakes DHB region. This case is in Rotorua and is a contact of a previously reported case. They were already in managed isolation accommodation when they tested positive.


Today, we are reporting 16 new cases in Eltham. Fifteen of these cases were announced on Wednesday and are being officially added to today's tally.

Public health officials are conducting interviews with the latest case to identify, isolate and test any close contacts and determine any further locations of interest. Initial investigations have confirmed this person is linked to previously reported cases in the area.

Earlier interviews with the cases have already determined a range of locations of interest, which have been added to the ministry's website, with further locations expected. People in Taranaki are asked to monitor the webpage, which is updated regularly.

Testing and vaccination centre details across Taranaki are available on the Taranaki DHB website.

Changes to reporting time-frames

Today the Ministry is moving to a new 24-hour reporting period for new cases of COVID-19.

Previously, new cases had to be reported to the ministry in the 24-hour period between 9am of the current day and 9am of the day prior in order to be counted in the latest tally. This 24-hour period is now changing from midnight to midnight.

This timing better aligns with DHB's reporting and reduces the time spent reconciling case numbers between the ministry and DHBs. 

Today's reported cases have been collated over a shortened 15-hour period (from 9am Wednesday to 11:59pm Wednesday) rather than the usual 24-hour time-frame as we transition to the new reporting period.  The impact on case numbers is expected to be minimal.

1:14pm - There are 91 new cases of COVID-19 to report today.

Here's the full statement from the Ministry of Health:

90 pct of eligible population fully vaccinated; 91 community cases; 58 in hospital; 4 in ICU

Congratulations New Zealand – we've reached the milestone of 90 percent fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of 11:59pm on Wednesday, 3,789,662 of the 4,209,057 eligible New Zealanders aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated, with 3,969,267 (or 94 percent) partially vaccinated.

Today, Whanganui has become the latest District Health Board (DHB) to vaccinate 90 percent of its eligible population with a first dose. 

Seven DHBs in total have also now reached the 90 percent fully vaccinated mark, with a number of others expected to reach this milestone in the coming days.

Testing update

More than 82,000 rapid antigen tests have been dispatched to 531 pharmacies to date.

As of this morning, 256 of these pharmacies have received their tests and a significant number of those remaining are expected to receive their tests by the end of today.

Recent severe weather has disrupted deliveries to some pharmacies. We are working with our courier services to ensure deliveries can be made as soon as possible, with orders being prioritised for city centres, travel junctions and vacation hotspots.

All unvaccinated people who are asymptomatic and require surveillance testing for travel need to get a supervised rapid antigen test from a pharmacy within 72 hours prior to departure.

This testing is for people over the age of 12 years, three months who are not fully vaccinated and do not have COVID-19 symptoms. This includes unvaccinated people travelling out of Auckland.

Rapid antigen testing at pharmacies is currently only available at no cost for people who are not yet vaccinated and need to get tested for travel.

Anyone with any symptoms is asked to get a PCR test at either a community testing centre or their GP and to stay at home until a negative result is returned. The location and hours of pharmacies offering rapid antigen tests will be available from Healthpoint.

COVID-19 vaccine update

  • Vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people): 3,957,272 first doses (94 pct); 3,775,269 second doses (90 pct); 22,754 third primary doses; 184,377 booster doses

  • Vaccines administered yesterday: 2,417 first doses; 8,156 second doses; 1,708 third primary doses and 15,979 booster doses.

  • Māori (percentage of eligible people): 493,657 first doses (86 pct); 435,410 second doses (76 pct)

  • Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people): 267,554 first doses (93 pct); second doses 249,913 (87 pct)

Vaccination rates by DHB with active cases (percentage of eligible people)

  • Northland DHB: First doses (88 pct); second doses (82 pct)

  • Auckland Metro DHBs: First doses (95 pct); second doses (92 pct)

  • Waikato DHB: First doses (93 pct); second doses (88 pct)

  • Bay of Plenty DHB: First doses (93 pct); second doses (86 pct)

  • Lakes DHB: First doses (91 pct); second doses (85 pct)

  • Taranaki DHB: First doses (92 pct); second doses (87 pct)

  • Whanganui DHB: First doses (90 pct); second doses (84 pct)

  • Hawke's Bay DHB: First doses (94 pct); second doses (88 pct)

  • Nelson-Marlborough DHB: First doses (94 pct); second doses (89 pct)

  • Canterbury DHB: First doses (97 pct); second doses (93 pct)


  • Cases in hospital: 58; North Shore: 9; Auckland: 27; Middlemore: 17; Waikato: 2; Tauranga: 2, Christchurch: 1

  • Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only): Unvaccinated or not eligible (30 cases / 57 pct); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (9 cases / 17 pct); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (10 cases/ 19 pct); unknown (4 cases / 8 pct)

  • Average age of current hospitalisations: 49

  • Cases in ICU or HDU: 4 (2 in Auckland; 2 in Middlemore)


  • Seven day rolling average of community cases: 84

  • Number of new community cases: 91

  • Number of new cases identified at the border: 4

  • Location of new community cases: Auckland (55), Waikato (7), Bay of Plenty (10), Lakes (1), Taranaki (16)

  • Number of community cases (total): 10,054 (in current community outbreak)

  • Number of active cases (total): 2,220 (cases identified in the past 21 days and not yet classed as recovered)

  • Confirmed cases (total): 12,868

  • Cases epidemiologically linked (total): 7,412


  • Number of active contacts being managed (total): 6,875

  • Percentage who have received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements): 84 pct

  • Percentage who have returned at least one result: 77 pct


  • Number of tests total (last 24 hours): 28,946

  • Tests rolling average (last 7 days): 25,059

  • Auckland tests total (last 24 hours): 11,270


COVID-19 has been detected in a wastewater sample collected from Gisborne on Tuesday, December 14. This is the sixth positive wastewater result for Tairāwhiti in recent weeks, indicating there may be unknown cases in the community.

Anyone who has symptoms, no matter how mild, is asked to get tested - even if they are vaccinated - and to stay at home until they return a negative result. For all testing locations, please visit Healthpoint.

There are no other new, unexpected wastewater results to report.


  • Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday: 2,966,020

  • Manual diary entries in 24 hours to midday: 40,291

My Vaccine Pass

  • My vaccine pass downloads total: 4,299,816

  • My vaccine pass downloads (last 24 hours): 38,774

1:04pm - Paediatric COVID-19 vaccine receives provisional approval

Medsafe has granted provisional approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be made available for children aged five to 11 years old.

Medsafe group manager, Chris James, says the vaccine has been adapted for the younger age group. The provisional approval is for two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's paediatric vaccine, administered at least 21 days apart.

"The Medsafe team has worked tirelessly this year to ensure that COVID-19 vaccine applications are prioritised and urgently reviewed, while still maintaining the same scrutiny that all medicine applications undergo before they can be approved," James said on Thursday.

"Medsafe will only approve a vaccine or medicine for use in New Zealand once it is satisfied that it has met high standards for quality, safety and efficacy."

The Ministry of Health's National Immunisation Programme Director, Astrid Koornneef, says that work is well underway to prepare for the potential roll-out of the paediatric vaccine in New Zealand.

"Medsafe approval is the first step in the process and the COVID-19 Vaccine Technical Advisory Group is now providing advice to the Ministry of Health to inform Cabinet's decision whether to use the vaccine in New Zealand," Koornneef said.

"If Cabinet agrees to use the vaccine in New Zealand, we want to have systems in place to roll out the vaccine safely and efficiently, at the earliest opportunity. This means completing the necessary training and working with the community to roll out the vaccine, including through whānau-based approaches."

If approved by Cabinet, the roll-out of the paediatric vaccine is expected to begin in New Zealand no later than the end of January 2022.

12:50pm - We are waiting for the Ministry of Health to release the latest update on today's cases as a crowd of protesters continue to congregate outside of Parliament.

12:40pm - New report highlights impact of 2020 COVID-19 lockdown on health care experience of disabled people

The Health Quality and Safety Commission (the Commission) has released a report on Thurday regarding the healthcare experience of around 4000 disabled people during last year's COVID-19 lockdown.

The healthcare experience of disabled people during COVID-19: Summary of findings from the COVID-19 patient experience survey was created in partnership with primary health organisations to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on consumers accessing healthcare during lockdown. The survey revealed some important information about how healthcare was experienced by disabled people in particular.

Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Otago Wellington and Commission board member, Dr Tristram Ingham, said: "This is the first time the Commission has been able to report data for this important population. The findings demonstrated a significant impact on disabled people, who make up around 24 percent of the population in Aotearoa New Zealand."

Between June and July 2020, the participants were asked about their healthcare experience during and after the first COVID-19 lockdown, which lasted from March 23 to May 13, 2020. Disabled people were more likely than non-disabled to report they found barriers to accessing care during the lockdown period. Many disabled people chose not to try and access healthcare during the first lockdown. One of the reasons was not wanting to go to places where people get sick and concerns around catching COVID-19. Of those who did seek care, only around half of the participants received same or next-day care.

The survey also highlighted issues with the overall quality of care that disabled people received. Disabled respondents reported worse experiences from their GP and more likely to say their individual needs and/or cultural needs were not met.

Disabled people were more likely to have virtual appointments using telehealth. While telehealth options flourished during the lockdown period, and some disabled people found it met their healthcare needs, for others it did not. 

"There are long-term impacts on the health of disabled people resulting from lower access to inclusive education, accessible housing and employment. Barriers to transport and accessibility are especially common issues for some. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many inequities that disabled people have faced within the health system and broader society," Dr Ingham said.

"On the plus side, the pandemic has served as a catalyst, leading to rapid innovation of more accessible services, which the disabled communities have been calling on for some years."

Dr Ingham says the healthcare system and the Commission have Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations to tāngata whaikaha Māori (disabled Māori). The Commission is taking its Te Tiriti commitment seriously by expanding its capabilities in disability data monitoring and promoting leadership opportunities for tāngata whaikaha Māori.

"We know the healthcare system can be difficult to navigate. Disabled people need to be involved at all levels of the health system, they have particular expertise and experiences to contribute. Partnering with disabled communities is a critical component of achieving equity in the health care system and equitable outcomes."

12:30pm - A speaker at the protest has confirmed Brian Tamaki, the Freedom and Rights Coalition founder, will not be attending the event at Parliament. The pastor is currently out on bail after being charged for organising and attending a protest event in Auckland in breach of COVID-19 restrictions. He pleaded not guilty.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

12:20pm - The majority of the procession has now arrived at the grounds of Parliament, with a line of police stationed on the forecourt.

Thousands of demonstrators have marched through Wellington's CBD to protest before the Beehive, however the majority of MPs are not at Parliament today - Wednesday was the last sitting day for the year.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

12:10pm - The convoy of motorbikes has arrived at the grounds of Parliament, revving their engines and producing clouds of smoke.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

12:10pm - NZ economy's resilience shown despite COVID impacts

The resilience of the economy in the face of the impact of the Delta outbreak was reflected in today's GDP figures and reinforces the Government's actions to support businesses and workers to secure the recovery, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement on Thursday morning.

GDP declined less than expected 3.7 percent in the September quarter, following an increase of 2.4 percent in the previous June quarter and a 1.5 percent rise in the quarter before that. The Treasury forecast a quarterly decrease of 6 percent in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. Economic commentators had initially forecast the economy would contract around 7 percent before revising that down using more recent data to around 4.5 percent.

On an annual basis, the economy was 4.9 percent larger than the previous year. The size of the economy was $345 billion.

"A decline in the September quarter was not unexpected as New Zealand raised Alert Level restrictions in mid-August in response to the Delta outbreak. But the strength of the economy that had built up before the outbreak put us in a strong position to cushion the impacts of Delta with support from the Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Resurgence Support Payment to protect jobs and livelihoods," Robertson said.

"We have already seen recent economic reports that show household spending has rebounded as restrictions have eased. Businesses are also employing more people while job ads have risen. The greater freedoms under the new traffic light system and gradual opening of the border will support the economy and accelerate the recovery.

"It shows our actions since the start of the pandemic to protect lives and livelihoods are working and have been the best economic response. We know, however, that the impact of Delta is uneven on some sectors and regions. The global environment also remains volatile as uncertainty surrounds the impact of the Omicron variant. We will continue to closely monitor and assess the situation to secure their recovery.

"Our focus remains on keeping New Zealanders safe, accelerating the recovery and dealing with long-standing issues such as climate change, housing and child wellbeing despite the uncertainty and volatility globally around the ongoing impact of COVID-19."

12:07pm - Thousands of protesters are continuing on their march to Parliament.

Meanwhile, a police spokesperson has confirmed the new checkpoints in Northland are operating well and no issues have been reported.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

12pm - The march to Parliament is in full swing, with organisers leading chants of, "When I say mandates you say over - mandates! Over! Mandates! Over!" "Labour's gotta go!" and "What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!"

Both the New Zealand flag and the national Māori (Tino Rangatiratanga) flag are visible among the crowd.

Demonstrators are marching behind a large white banner, reading "Labour Must Go".

A convoy of motorbike riders driving down Victoria St.
A convoy of motorbike riders driving down Victoria St. Photo credit: Newshub
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Telegram

11:53am - Meanwhile, a small group of protesters have gathered outside the gates of Government House in Epsom, Auckland.

11:45am - Aotearoa hits 90 percent fully vaccinated milestone

Ninety percent of eligible New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated against the virus, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

"We've now reached 90 percent fully vaccinated across the country - that means 3,788,151 New Zealanders have rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their whānau, friends and communities," Hipkins said on Thursday morning.

"We knew yesterday we'd reached the milestone, and now that the official count is through, we can formally recognise the hard work of everyone who has played their part, and who are continuing to do their bit.

"Their commitment means all New Zealanders are safer and more protected, and can get back to doing the things they love, whether it's travelling to catch up with friends and family for Christmas, heading out to restaurants, pubs and cafes, or enjoying the many festivals and outdoor events planned for the summer.

"This tremendous result could not have happened without the efforts of the many thousands of people across Aotearoa who've worked tirelessly since the vaccination programme was launched early this year to support the goal of getting every eligible New Zealander vaccinated.

"This includes our more than 15,000 vaccinators, as well as our DHB health teams, Māori and Pacific health providers, community NGOs, Government ministries and agencies, logistics, delivery and distribution centre staff, and the countless others who've been such an instrumental part of the programme's success to date.

"This result also comes hot on the heels of the three DHBs in the Auckland metropolitan area having now hit the 90 percent fully vaccinated milestone. That means seven DHBs in total have now nailed this mark, with a number of others about to reach it in the coming days.

"And the work continues. By 11.59pm last night, 3,789,662 of the 4,209,057 eligible New Zealanders aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated, with 3,969,267 (or 94 percent ) partially vaccinated.

"We know we still have more to do, and we will be continuing the mahi to further raise vaccination rates in those areas where it's most needed – as well as among our Māori and Pacific communities to bring them closer to that 90 per cent fully vaccinated mark.

"That's why I encourage everyone in Aotearoa who is eligible for the vaccine to go ahead and get their shot, whether it be their first, second or a booster dose.

"There are hundreds of places open until Christmas and over the summer holidays where you can get your vaccination, so it's never been easier.

"There's also a ton of really good information available from official, trusted sources, which is a good place to start for anyone who still has questions. 

"This includes the key websites - ,,,, or your health provider. Healthline is another great place to have your questions answered – call 0800 28 29 26.

"We want all of our communities protected against COVID-19, and no-one who's eligible to be left behind."

11:43am - Protesters are now chanting, "What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!"

The convoy of motorbikes are driving down a neighbouring street.

The procession has began, with protesters marching behind a white sign emblazoned with, "Labour Must Go".

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: YouTube
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

11:37am - Police officers are stationed on the forecourt of Parliament in preparation for the protesters' arrival.

Organisers are urging order as the procession begins. A convoy of motorbikes has also arrived, revving their engines.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: YouTube

11:33am - The last speaker at Civic Square has made a threat of "guns" and "weapons" in his closing statements.

"We've got to lay all our weapons. We are marching down there very shortly. We have got to put all our guns and all our energy and all our effort joining together and targeting it at this corrupt system, and this corrupt government that is led by Jacinda Ardern and this Labour-led Government," the speaker said.

The protesters have now gathered in the neighbouring street and are preparing to begin their march. 

11:30am - The protesters are now beginning their march to the grounds of Parliament. An estimated 2000 people are currently congregated at Wellington's Civic Square, many of whom are brandishing signs emblazoned with anti-mandate and anti-lockdown messaging.

A series of speakers have just addressed the crowd, including a rap performance by Derty Sesh. 

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub

11:20am - Here are the latest locations of interest as of 11am.

  • Parent and Baby Room, Tauranga Crossing
  • Happy Valley Chinese, Tauranga Crossing
  • Domino's Pizza, Hawera.

Parent and Baby Room in Tauranga Crossing has been classified as a high risk exposure event.

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.

11:12am - Auckland-born rapper Derty Sesh is now addressing the crowd, discussing his "confusion" around the virus.

"I don’t know who Jacinda is, I don’t know these people… she’s not my mum!" he exclaimed. 

A few days ago, the minor social media influencer posted on his Facebook that the Government had made the school holidays as "boring as possible" for children, saying officials had "already screwed half the year" for schooling.

Rapper Derty Sesh is addressing the crowd.
Rapper Derty Sesh is addressing the crowd. Photo credit: Telegram

11:05am - New Zealand Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 3.7 percent in the September 2021 quarter, Statistics New Zealand has announced.

In a statement on Thursday morning, Stats NZ confirmed GDP, a measure of growth in national outputs, fell by 3.7 percent (seasonally adjusted) in the third quarter, compared to the second quarter. 

It was the second-largest fall since 1986, Stats NZ said.

The quarterly fall captures six weeks of COVID-19 restrictions, which started just before midnight on August 17, and follows a 2.8 percent rise in the June quarter (2.4 percent after adjustments). 

It marks the fourth fall since the pandemic began. The biggest fall was in the June 2020 quarter, when GDP fell 12.2 percent (9.9 percent after adjustments).

Read more here.

11:02pm - The crowd of protesters has grown to nearly 2000, Newshub estimates. 

A series of speakers are now addressing the throngs of people, espousing anti-Government and anti-mandate sentiments. Speakers are standing on a stage in front of a poster emblazoned with, "hands off our freedoms and our rights".

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Telegram

10:56am - Some protesters in a Telegram chat are upset most MPs aren't in Parliament today, as Wednesday was their final sitting day. Others are frustrated by the weather.

"March to where? The [politicians] left yesterday. We need to get smarter," one person wrote.

"There's still some in Parliament," another replied.

"Public servants not politicians. Waste of time protesting really," said another.

10:47am - A crowd of more than 1000 people are now yelling, "Freedom!" ahead of their march towards Parliament.

Police officers have also been seen stationed outside the Beehive.

The significant crowd can be seen swelling out of Civic Square, the meeting point for the protest.

A stall selling 'Make America Great Again' (MAGA) - the slogan adopted by former US President Donald Trump during his tenure - themed merchandise has also been set up in central Wellington.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Newshub
Police pictured outside Parliament on Thursday morning.
Police pictured outside Parliament on Thursday morning. Photo credit: Newshub

10:42am - Summer / Raumati Guidelines for whānau leaving Auckland

People leaving Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland over the summer are reminded to 'Mask, Scan, Pass' throughout their journey and are asked to stay at home if they are feeling unwell.

"It's essential that anyone who is feeling under the weather with any COVID-19 symptoms - even mild ones - before a trip away does the right thing by getting a test before they leave," Fepulea'I Margie Apa, the lead of the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) and Counties Manukau Health CEO, said on Thursday.

Symptoms include a fever, a new or worsening cough, a sore throat, shortness of breath, sneezing, a runny nose and temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste.                      

"If you and your whānau are symptom-free and planning to travel, it's important to be prepared. Make sure everyone has a mask, hand sanitiser, the NZ COVID Tracer app on their phone, and their My Vaccine Pass downloaded or printed out.

"You'll also need to think about what you will do if you have COVID-19 symptoms, or test positive for COVID-19 while you are away from your normal home and care networks. If you can, pack some extra kai (food) and essential supplies, such as medication, just in case and think about what else you might need to organise if this happened."

Testing services will be operating throughout the country over the summer holidays. For up-to-date information on testing locations in Auckland, visit For up-to-date info on all testing locations around the country, visit You can also call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

People who test positive for COVID-19 while away on holiday will be assessed by a member of the public health team and, where possible, will be asked to drive home again.

"If you get COVID-19 while away on holiday, and you can safely drive home to self-isolate, you'll be asked to do so. You should drive directly to your home, making as few stops as possible and minimising your contact with other people," Apa said.

"Travelling home, however, might not be possible or practical. If you've travelled by public transport, or if you're too sick to drive, public health teams will help you to make different arrangements. This might mean staying where you are to isolate or being transported to alternative accommodation or a local hospital, depending on your circumstances."

It's also important to remember that different regions may have different COVID-19 Protection Framework (or traffic light system) settings. "Think about where you are going, and how your plans might be affected if the region you are in is in a different setting, or enters a different setting while you are there," Apa said. "Have a backup plan up your sleeve to ensure you and your whānau stay safe."

  • Get vaccinated: Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19, so we encourage you to be fully vaccinated before you go on holiday (or even if you are staying home over the break).    
  • If you, or a whānau member, feel unwell while still at the place you normally live: Stay put and don't travel. Contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453, or visit for advice and to arrange to get tested.   
  • Pack essentials including hand sanitiser and masks or face coverings. If you can, pack some extra kai (food) and supplies in case you have to isolate while on holiday. Remember to get prescriptions filled and bring any medical supplies you need with you.  
  • Have your My Vaccine Pass ready, either on your phone or a paper copy, for places that require proof of vaccination to enter. You may need to present your My Vaccine Pass at the Auckland border. A paper copy of your My Vaccine Pass is a useful back-up to keep with you, in case you lose your phone, or it has run out of battery.   
  • Remember to scan: use the NZ COVID Tracer app to scan everywhere you go or manually update your digital diary using the NZ COVID Tracer app, or keep a paper-based record of where you've been.
  • If you become unwell or have been exposed to a COVID-19 case while away from the place you normally live,  contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or check the Healthpoint website - This is where you will find details of health professionals for the area you are in, who can advise whether and where you should be tested. If you are advised to get a test, please do so as soon as possible; do not wait until you get back to where you normally live to get tested. If you are symptomatic, isolate until you receive your test result.   
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 while you are away, a member of the public health team will be in touch with you to discuss your relevant circumstances and advise you as to what you should do. If you are well enough and able to safely drive back to where you normally live (or be driven by a whānau member/friend), you will be advised to do so.   
  • If you are not well enough to drive, or you have travelled by ferry/ plane/ bus/ train, you may be advised to stay where you are, or make plans to isolate elsewhere, in accordance with the COVID-19 Care in the Community programme.  The member of the public health team who gets in touch will help you find a solution.    

10:38am - Up to a 1000 protesters are estimated to be at Wellington's Civic Square ahead of a planned march to the grounds of Parliament, organised by the Brian Tamaki-founded group, the Freedoms and Rights Coalition. 

Many of the attendees can be seen brandishing signs, posters and placards emblazoned with anti-lockdown and anti-mandate messaging.

10:30am - Protesters gathering at Civic Square can be seen carrying signs emblazoned with slogans such as, "We Stand With Teachers", "Lockdowns Wreck Mental Health" and "Vaccine Passes - Prevention or Punishment?"

Our Wellington-based reporter estimates up to 500 people have now congregated at the square. 

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Telegram
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Telegram / Screengrab

10:24am - A woman has begun speaking at the Freedoms and Rights Coalition's protest in Wellington. She is encouraging people to scan in with their NZ COVID Tracer app while they wait for others to arrive.

"I just want [you all] to be free," she said.

An estimated 500 people have now congregated at Civic Square ahead of the planned protest to Parliament.

10:15am - Throngs of protesters are congregating at Wellington's Civic Square in preparation for a planned march to the grounds of Parliament.

The crowd has increased to a couple of hundred protesters, according to a Newshub reporter.

As aforementioned, the majority of MPs will not be at the Beehive on Thursday as Wednesday marked the House's last sitting day for the year.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, December 16
Photo credit: Telegram / Screengrab

10:10am - There is a handful of new or updated locations of interest as of 9am:

  • Briscoes, Tauranga
  • Pak'nSave, Hawera
  • Q Variety Store, Hawera
  • Tauranga Citizens Club, Tauranga South.

Tauranga Citizens Club has been classified as "high risk" - anyone who was at the venue between 12pm and 8pm on December 10 is asked to self-isolate and get tested immediately. An additional test should be taken on the fifth day after the date of exposure. Further isolation and testing requirements will be provided by Public Health.

Record your visit online or call Healthline so our contact tracers can get in touch.

10am - A crowd of between 50 and 100 people have already began gathering at Civic Square in Wellington's CBD. Protesters are expected to arrive at the location at around 10:30am before marching towards Parliament, in protest again vaccination mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.

Although it's a cloudy day in the capital, the rain has currently stopped.

9:50am - The United Kingdom has recorded its highest daily number of new cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, as a senior British health chief said on Wednesday (local time) there could be a "staggering" rise over the next few days.

A further 78,610 infections were reported on Wednesday, about 10,000 more than the previous record reported in January.

More than 11 million people have now tested positive for the disease in the UK, which has a total population of around 67 million.

With the new and highly transmissible Omicron variant surging across Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned of a "tidal wave" of infections.

However, Johnson suffered a blow to his authority on Tuesday when he suffered the biggest rebellion of his premiership, with more than 100 lawmakers voting against measures to curb the increasing spread of the disease.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, earlier called the Omicron variant "probably the most significant threat" since the start of the pandemic.

"The numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we've seen in cases for previous variants," she told a Parliamentary committee.

Harries said Omicron had the potential to put the National Health Service "in serious peril" due to the speed at which infections are increasing.

The new variant of the virus has a doubling time of under two days in most regions in Britain, with its growth rate notable in London and Manchester in particular.

More than 10,000 cases of Omicron have been recorded, with at least 10 people hospitalised. One person has died after contracting the variant, which is set to become the dominant strain in London.

More than 146,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United Kingdom.

- Reuters 

9:40am - With protesters set to congregate at Wellington's Civic Square in the next half-an-hour for a planned march to Parliament, it's worth noting that most MPs are not currently there - Wednesday marked the last sitting day for the House this year.

Some Government ministers will still be on the premises, but the majority of MPs will likely have returned to their homes for the Christmas break.

9:30am - Police will be maintaining a presence in the capital on Thursday as demonstrators descend on the CBD for a march to Parliament, in protest against ongoing restrictions, vaccination mandates and the Labour Government. 

In a statement, a police spokesperson confirmed that officers are aware of the planned protest and will be monitoring the activity. Police will respond to events where it is appropriate, they told the Herald.

"As with previous large gatherings, police may follow up on any identified offences or breaches at a later time."

A spokesperson for Wellington City Council said they will be supporting police by monitoring the event on CCTV. Updates will be shared on social media to advise locals of any possible disruptions to traffic.

9:20am - Government workers in the capital have been advised to work from home or conceal their identity as anti-Government and anti-mandate protesters descend on Wellington for a planned march to Parliament.

The Freedom and Rights Coalition is staging a protest in the capital on Thursday morning to demonstrate against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination mandates, including the planned vaccination of five-to-11-year-olds next year.

An email to WorkSafe employees, viewed by the New Zealand Herald, suggested staffers work from home due to concerns that protesters may target or abuse Government workers.

"With WorkSafe's growing association with COVID-19 enforcement, during the protest we need to keep a low profile and take extra precautions to keep you safe," the email said, according to the Herald. "In light of this, where possible, work from home on Thursday."

The email also urged employees to remove their lanyards or any branded clothing that could identify them as WorkSafe staff if leaving the building. They have also been advised not to use WorkSafe-branded vehicles.

9:05am - The Freedoms and Rights Coalition, a group founded by controversial Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki, will protest in the capital on Thursday morning.

The group has previously held large demonstrations against ongoing restrictions and vaccination mandates imposed by the Government. 

Protesters will congregate at Wellington's Civic Square at 10:30am before marching to the grounds of Parliament. 

"Prepare your family to join us, as we descend on Parliament with the largest protest they've ever seen. The size of this protest will send a clear message... NZers want political change!" says a post shared to its social media.

According to the group's Facebook, Thursday's march will protest against the newly implemented 'traffic light' system, vaccination mandates and plans to start rolling out the vaccine to five-to-11-year-olds in January. 

8:50am - The Government's newly announced investment in the country's intensive care (ICU) capacity comes one Christmas too late, says the Opposition's health spokesperson, Dr Shane Reti.

Responding to the announcement on Thursday morning, Dr Reti said only 31 new ICU beds will be provided under the new funding.

"By his own admission Andrew Little didn't build a single new resourced adult ICU bed in Auckland in the 18 months before Delta arrived and the number of new build ICU beds in this announcement, across the whole country, is only 31 new beds or roughly 10 percent," he said.

"This is a paltry figure when he was advised by specialists last year to triple the number of beds. If he hasn't figured it out already, 355 negative pressure room ward beds are not 355 ICU beds.

"Many of the announcements today are not actually new builds but 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' by converting ward beds, administrative space and elective surgery beds into ICU beds. The hope has to be that these beds will then serve a dual purpose, otherwise the lost inpatient beds will eventually add to escalating waiting lists for people to see specialists and have cancelled procedures."

Reti added that the first installment of ICU beds, scheduled for July, will be too late if the newly identified variant of concern, Omicron, arrives on New Zealand's shores.

"We need to see a delivery schedule and clear evidence that funding has followed the greatest need."

8:40am - Two children at a school in Hamilton have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

According to an email viewed by Stuff, Peachgrove Intermediate School principal, Aaron West, has urged parents to be on the look out for symptoms after two students contracted the virus.

It's understood the school will remain open.

In the email, West said the infected students had been at school "in Team Waru" on Monday, December 13.

He added that the school had taken "appropriate public health measures and cleaning procedures [were] in place".

If symptoms develop, get tested immediately and stay at home until a negative result is returned, he warned.

On Monday, the school confirmed one person in its community had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a post to its Facebook page, Peachgrove Intermediate School said parents and whānau would soon be receiving an email outlining the next steps.

"We have a confirmed COVID-19 case in our community," said the post, shared on Monday afternoon.

"To our parents and whānau - you will receive an email from us letting you know whether your child is a close contact, or not a contact of the confirmed case. This email also includes what this means for your whānau, and what you need to do next.

"Students who were at school today will bring a hard copy notice home.

"The health and wellbeing of our children, staff and community is our top priority. We will keep you posted on any new developments."

8:25am - The scientific definition as to what constitutes "fully vaccinated" is still evolving, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told NBC's Today on Tuesday (local time).

Scientists are weighing up whether the definition of "fully vaccinated" should change from two shots to three in the wake of the Omicron variant's emergence. New research has found that a standard two-dose course of a vaccine such as Pfizer-BioTech does not offer adequate protection against the new coronavirus variant - however, a booster shot substantially increases the body's ability to fight off the virus.

"What we know about variants is that the more mutations you have, the more immune boost you need in order to combat them, so that's exactly why we're saying [that as] this variant has a lot of mutations, we want to make sure that we have as much immune protection as possible," Walensky said, when asked if the definition of fully vaccinated should be amended to include a booster shot. 

She said a booster will provide "more protection" against the virus.

When asked again if 'fully vaccinated' should constitute a three-dose course, Walensky said the science is "evolving".

8:15am - Early data on the Omicron variant presents "a very strong argument for people getting their boosters," according to Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of America's leading health experts.

Speaking to CNN, Fauci reiterated earlier evidence that indicates a standard two-dose course of a mRNA vaccine - such as Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech - doesn't offer sufficient protection against Omicron, the recently identified 'variant of concern' that is rapidly circulating overseas. However, a booster shot of a mRNA vaccine will increase that protection.

"Omicron is going to be a challenge because it spreads very rapidly, and the vaccines that we use - the regular two-dose mRNA - don't do very well against infection itself. But particularly if you get the boost, it is pretty good," Fauci told CNN.

"There is no doubt that the optimal protection is going to be with three doses of an mRNA."

In South Africa, where the variant was first identified, there is "almost a vertical spike of infection" - however, the rate of hospitalisations remains comparatively low, Fauci said. 

One explanation could be that a large percentage of the population have residual post-infection immunity from previously contracting the virus, he suggested. While this residual immunity is not protecting them getting infection, it could be protecting them from developing severe disease.

"Whatever it is, the disease seems to be less severe. Whether it's inherently less pathogenic as a virus or whether there's more protection in the community, we're just going to have to see when it comes in the United States. And for sure... it is going to be dominant in the United States, given its doubling time," Fauci told CNN.

He added that the US has "got to do better" with its vaccination campaign if it wants to "get this thing over with" - it's estimated 60 million eligible people still have to receive their shots in the country.

8am - With New Zealand on the cusp of hitting the golden 90 percent milestone in its vaccination campaign, ACT Party leader David Seymour has questioned why the Government is still committed to enforcing restrictive settings on the public. 

In a statement on Wednesday night, the Epsom MP - an outspoken commentator on the Government's COVID-19 response - said he couldn't understand why officials are continuing to impose restrictions on New Zealanders when 90 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

"New Zealanders will be asking themselves why the Government is maintaining the current COVID-19 restrictions now that nine in 10 adults are fully vaccinated," Seymour said.

"Jacinda Ardern promised New Zealanders fewer restrictions once we got to 90 percent double-dose. Now we're here, but the Government is determined to keep the country in unnecessarily restrictive traffic light settings."

Seymour has frequently referred to a criterion in the Government's COVID-19 Protection Framework which stipulates that the Red setting, the most restrictive step of the system, should be implemented when a region is facing an "unsustainable number of hospitalisations". 

A number of regions in the North Island are currently under Red restrictions - however, all, aside from Northland, will move to the Orange setting at 11:59pm on December 30. 

"The conditions are right now. The Government's traffic light system says a region will be in Red when the health system faces an 'unsustainable number of hospitalisations'. It's clear the health system isn't being overwhelmed right now," Seymour said. "There is no reason for the South Island to be in Orange.

"Moving to Orange would remove the venue size limits that are killing so much activity in Auckland and other regions in Red. Hospitality, events, even weddings and funerals are being severely limited by Orange.

"What's the point in having criteria if you're not going to follow it?"

The new regional settings, which were announced on Monday, will remain in place until at least January 17, the next date of review. 

"[Ardern's] chosen to knock off early and put the COVID-19 response on autopilot for a month instead of balancing the different needs of New Zealanders in real time," Seymour said.

"Aucklanders have been through enough. It's one of the most vaccinated cities in the world. We should let Aucklanders enjoy the freedom of Orange for Christmas."

7:50am - More than $600 million will be funneled into upgrading 36 hospitals nationwide to ensure day-to-day treatment can continue amid a possible influx of COVID-19 patients. 

The Government's $644 million spend includes $100 million in capital spending and $544 million in operating costs. The funding will cover new hospital beds as well as upgrades to intensive care unit (ICU) capacity in some of the country's most vulnerable regions.

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast on Thursday morning, Minister of Health, Andrew Little, praised the ongoing efforts of healthcare staff in Auckland, particularly at Auckland City Hospital, who have been at "the epicentre of COVID" for two consecutive years.

But the workforce is drained and burned out, he said.

"I know that's a workforce that has just had enough - just had it. Tired, exhausted, fatigued, but they still turn out and provide great level care."

Little acknowledged there are gaps in New Zealand's health system, contributing to the considerable pressure on staff and hospitals. He also acknowledged the inequities in the system, which were laid bare during the latest outbreak.

He added that New Zealand does need another large hospital in order for the system to sufficiently cater to population growth, with an additional 600,000 people calling the country home between 2008 and 2018.

"Over that 10 years, we didn't put a lot more into expanding our health capacity. We are short a hospital the size of a Middlemore or Canterbury in our health system at the moment - that's the size of the catch-up problem that we've got," Little told Breakfast.

7:35am - A cluster of cases appears to be growing in Taranaki after 15 people tested positive in Eltham on Wednesday, associated with an infection reported in the township over the weekend.

The majority of cases are students at a local school, which has now closed for the summer break. Many of the pupils were in the same class, South Taranaki Mayor Phil Nixon told Stuff.

According to the school's social media, 150 enrolled students celebrated the end of the year with a Christmas-themed performance on Tuesday. 

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has been speaking to the families affected by the outbreak, many of whom are shocked by the latest developments. 

"These whānau are going to be in isolation for Christmas. They don't know what happens with work, with whānau - some of them only have one person in the house with COVID. They don't know if they'll get it too, or may even already have it," she said, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

"It's a scary time for a lot of whānau here, but the community is wrapping around them."

She said there are now more than 20 confirmed or probable cases in the area. 

"I don't think we will be seeing the back of this for some time to come."

The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that the cases are self-isolating, with initial inquiries suggesting all are linked to the first Eltham case reported last weekend.

7:20am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage on the COVID-19 outbreak for Thursday, December 16.