Auckland's border has officially reopened, allowing domestic travel in and out of the region to resume for the first time in months.
It was a smooth operation on Tuesday night, with police lifting the northern and southern checkpoints at Te Hana and Mercer respectively to small queues of waiting cars. The border was officially reopened at 11:59pm with minimal delays.
It's believed traffic will continue to build throughout the morning, with police preparing for a mass exodus over the coming days as Aucklanders scramble to escape after months of lockdown.
Meanwhile, two checkpoints have been erected in Northland to ensure northbound travellers entering the region are either fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative test. The checkpoints, located in Uretiti on SH1 and at Maungatūroto on SH12, are being patrolled by police with the assistance of the iwi-led group, Te Tai Tokerau Border Control. Not every vehicle will be stopped, but spot-checks are being performed.
It's hoped the roadblocks, which will operate 24/7 in the short-term, will protect the region's vulnerable communities while it works to boost its flagging vaccination rate.
What you need to know:
- There are 74 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Wednesday - 56 in Auckland, nine in Waikato, seven in Bay of Plenty, one in Lakes and one in Canterbury, which was first reported on Tuesday.
- Sixty-one people are in hospital, four of whom are in intensive care or high dependency units.
- A patient with COVID-19 has died at Tauranga Hospital, bringing New Zealand's death toll to 47.
- Fifteen people have 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.
- Auckland's border has officially reopened, 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.
- Spot-checks are underway in Northland as police patrol the two new checkpoints in Uretiti and Maungaturoto.
- All regions currently in red, aside from Northland, will move to orange at 11:59pm on Dec 30. These settings will remain in place until at least Jan 17.
- Workers covered by the My Vaccine Pass mandate - staff working at businesses that are required to use jab certificates to fully operate - must be fully vaccinated by Jan 17.
- Keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest here.
These live updates have finished.
8:45pm - Rapid antigen testing got off to a bumpy start on Wednesday with a number of pharmacies unable to report online test results.
It's a process that only takes 15 minutes. A swab up the nose and straight into the testing tube of solution. Drops of that then go into the test device, a process known as rapid antigen testing.
After those 15 minutes are up, if there's just one line indicating a negative result, you're good to go.
Pharmacists should then be able to enter that result into an online database known as Eclair, but as of 9am on Wednesday, many couldn't.
"I got told it would be last night but I haven't seen it in my emails," pharmacist Annabel Turley told Newshub. "Well, I'll have to go back and re-enter everything."
8:15pm - ACT leader David Seymour says 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.
"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," he says.
"On Monday, the Prime Minister couldn't explain why Auckland will be any more ready in a few weeks to move to orange than it is today, because there is no logical reason for it.
"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'."
Seymour says it's clear the health system isn't being overwhelmed right now and there's no reason for the South Island to be in orange.
"The next two weeks will cost people all over Auckland and other regions at red because the Prime Minister doesn't want the tiny risk she'll have to reverse her decision," he says.
"She'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.
"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."
Seymour adds that Ardern is "making it up as she goes along", citing her want for the traffic light system to "bed in" and "go through a full transmission cycle" before lifting restrictions.
"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."
7:45pm - Less than half of Auckland secondary school students have been turning up for their NCEA exams.
The Qualifications Authority (NZQA) told RNZ that attendance at NCEA exams in the region in the first two weeks of exams averaged 48 percent.
The low attendance was due to a new rule that ensured students in Auckland, and also those in Northland and parts of Waikato, automatically received an unexpected event grade from their school for any exams they missed.
The rule recognised that teens in those areas spent more time in lockdown than students in other parts of the country.
7:15pm - There are just two DHBs remaining to reach the 90 percent first-dose milestone for vaccinations.
Whanganui has just 77 people remaining and Northland has vaccinated 88 percent of its eligible population, with 3813 to go.
Some DHBs are getting close to fully vaccinating 90 percent of its eligible population. MidCentral has just 1755 people remaining to reach this goal, Wairarapa has 395, Nelson-Marlborough has 1905, and South Canterbury has 750.
All four of these DHbs have currently fully vaccinated 89 percent of their eligible populations.
Seven DHBs have fully vaccinated at least 90 percent of their eligible populations: Waitemata, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Capital and Coast, Hutt Valley, Canterbury, and Southern.
6:30pm - Auckland Airport says it was great to see the domestic terminal coming back to life after four months of very limited travel.
General manager of operations Anna Cassels-Brown says people began arriving at the terminal just after 5am ready to catch the first flights out.
"I was in the terminal yesterday and the contrast with today couldn't be greater. We've gone from an average of 600 travellers per day to more than 20,000 travellers today," she says.
"The place is buzzing, and all our staff are really excited that it has gone off so well. Even though they are wearing masks you can see the smiles – they're just so happy to be looking after more customers once again."
Traveller numbers will build over the coming weeks to peak December 23, with more than 27,000 people travelling in and out of Auckland Airport's domestic terminals.
Cassels-Brown says that while it will be busy in the terminal over the holiday period it's still lower than the pre-COVID traveller numbers.
"On our busiest days heading into Christmas before the pandemic we would have consistently had around 30,000 people through each day, so we know the terminal can handle the current volumes."
Her advice for travellers coming out to the airport in the coming weeks is to expect a few differences to the air travel experience.
"One is that you have to wear a mask in the terminal as well as during your flight. I was in the terminal earlier today and didn't see a single customer or worker not wearing a mask, which shows just how great we Aucklanders are at doing the right thing," Cassels-Brown says.
"The second piece of advice is to make sure you are at the terminal a good hour before your flight for the extra checks on vaccine passes or the negative COVID test which will be done during airline check-in and could create some delay. There is a little bit of extra stuff that is different, so just be ready for it, and I'm confident it will go smoothly for you and all of us."
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm for the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Watch online here or on Three.
5:45pm - NationalMap Ltd has released its latest version of the online COVID-19 vaccination map.
It shows 93.6 percent of New Zealand suburbs have either reached or are within 200 vaccinations of reaching the 90 percent target.
Created in October, the interactive map uses weekly Ministry of Health data and allows people to click on a statistical area (SA2), showing what percentage of that area has received one dose and the percentage fully vaccinated.
NationalMap created the graph to help accelerate vaccination rates.
5:15pm - There are three new locations of interest. They are:
- Chapel St Cafe Tauranga, December 6 from 9:45am to 10am
- Taylor Bros Transport Ltd Greerton, December 10 from 9:30am to 1pm
- Saturday Market Hawera, December 11 from 10am to 11am.
5pm - National's tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says Chris Hipkins' comments about tourism being the last priority shows "how little this Government cares about Kiwi businesses dependent on tourism".
Hipkins told RNZ: "We're saying that tourism is the last priority, so those who are coming to New Zealand for a holiday - that's the last priority."
McClay says the Government has got it wrong.
"Our economy lost $15.6 billion and 72,000 jobs in just one year without international tourists. Losses will continue to mount up each year we're cut off from international tourists," he says.
"Not one double-vaccinated person from Australia in the past three months has tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in NZ, yet tourism businesses have lost billions or been forced to close."
McClay says the Government should scrap MIQ for all double vaccinated arrivals to New Zealand as a priority. He adds that self-isolation rules will force more businesses to close and cause more workers to lose their jobs "unnecessarily".
"Chris Hipkins' comments will be disappointing but not surprising to the tourism sector. He should explain to tourism businesses why they won't see international visitors for another 12 months, as his colleague Stuart Nash indicated last week," McClay says.
"If Kiwis in Australia can come home from January, why will it take a year to open up to the rest of the world? Tourism businesses cannot afford to wait till the summer of 2023 before international tourists return.
"Throughout the pandemic, tourism operators have done everything asked of them at significant personal and financial cost. They deserve a Government that will make them a priority."
4:30pm - The Waikato DHB has given an update on its nine new cases that were reported overnight.
Five cases are in Te Kūiti and four in Hamilton. All are under investigation for links to previous cases.
The total number of cases in the region is 597 - 112 are active and 485 have recovered. There are 16 active cases that are unlinked.
Public health providers are supporting 71 cases to isolate at home.
4pm - There is one new location of interest. It is:
- West End Coin Save Utahina, December 10 from 3:15pm to 4:45pm.
3:45pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just said in Parliament that New Zealand has reached the 90 percent double-dose goal for our eligible population.
"With that 90 percent, that puts us above places like the United States, the UK, Israel, places that used emergency approvals and started their roll outs before us," she said in the House.
"We are now finishing with a rate much higher than them."
3:30pm - South Taranaki district councillor Mark Bellringer, who is based in Eltham, has said it was "absolutely stupid" Eltham Primary School didn't shut after its first case was detected.
"They knew someone at the school had it and they didn't close the school on Monday. Why not?" he told Stuff.
Bellringer says he spoke to South Taranaki Mayor Phil Nixon and was told if it was not a direct contact, there was no reason to close.
"It beggars belief."
3pm - There is one new location of interest as of 3pm - Chapel St Cafe in Tauranga. Click here for the relevant date, times and public health advice.
2:45pm - To recap, New South Wales has seen a significant surge in infections over the past 24 hours, recording an almost 70 percent increase in cases compared to Tuesday's total.
On Wednesday, the state's health department confirmed that 1360 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday (local time). On Tuesday, 804 new cases were recorded, up from 536 on Monday.
As of Wednesday, 110 people have tested positive for the Omicron variant in New South Wales, the department said.
The state has endured multiple outbreaks of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, battling a particularly virulent flare-up of the Delta variant a couple of months ago. Since the pandemic began almost two years ago, 88,406 people have been recorded as confirmed cases in New South Wales.
As of Wednesday, 166 patients with COVID-19 are receiving care at hospitals across the state, with 24 in intensive care - seven require ventilation.
2:35pm - Manurewa-Papakura Ward Councillor Daniel Newman has described Counties Manukau DHB's vaccination milestone as "a victory for public health" and a "tribute to a region that has done it tough".
On Wednesday afternoon, it was confirmed that Counties Manukau had joined Auckland's two other metro DHBs at the 90 percent milestone - meaning 90 percent of the DHB's eligible population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"We have achieved 90 percent due to our clinicians, our kaimahi and business sponsors, and especially the hundreds of thousands of South Auckland residents who have followed the health advice and made an informed decision to roll up their sleeves," Newman said on Wednesday afternoon.
"Vaccinations have helped to build resilience within a part of the Auckland region that has faced the full force of COVID-19. Around one in five people in Counties Manukau were vaccinated against COVID-19 when the Delta outbreak hit New Zealand. We have battled this pandemic, hesitancy from many people, as well as a campaign of disinformation, which compounded the challenge of protecting the community against this looming threat.
"COVID-19 has not gone away, but our community is significantly more resilient as we head into Christmas. We are continuing to support people who are vaccinating for the first time as well as those who are completing their second doses.
"Make no mistake, we have to get vaccination rates well over 90 percent in every suburb across Counties Manukau and with every population group - 90 percent is a good number but the public health campaign continues.
"We"re also preparing for the roll-out of vaccinations for the five-to-11 age-group and supporting people who qualify for a booster shot. This is hard work, but a healthier freer community is worth fighting for."
2:25pm - Labour's economic "sugar hit" is fading and Kiwis will be left with a hangover of debt, rising prices and taxes, claims ACT leader David Seymour.
The Epsom MP has responded to Treasury's latest economic and fiscal update, known as HYEFU, which predicts that inflation will peak at 5.6 percent in the March 2022 quarter.
The update, released on Wednesday, shows strong tax revenue - $98 billion - has been offset by the Government's COVID-19 financial support, resulting in a $20.8 billion deficit.
"Compared with Budget forecasts, inflation will be three times higher next year and the Government will take $55 billion more in tax between 2021 and 2025," Seymour said.
"Labour's COVID-19 response has been running on a sugar hit of cheap credit and borrowed money. That money is now sloshing around the economy and pushing up the price of everything."
While unemployment is at a record-low 3.4 percent and is expected to drop to 3.2 percent next year, the bad news for Kiwis is that wage growth is not keeping up with inflation, meaning it will cost more to live.
With inflation forecast to peak at 5.6 percent in the March 2022 quarter, comparatively, wage growth is forecast to reach a peak of 4.6 percent in the December 2023 quarter, before tapering off to 4.2 percent. It's not until the 2023 forecast period when wage growth will be 4.5 percent and inflation will be 3.1 percent.
"Today's HYEFU forecasts prices will rise by 5.1 percent next year, outpacing wages. The Reserve Bank believes inflation could get close to 6 percent," Seymour said. "At this year's Budget, 2022 inflation was forecast to be 1.7 percent – it's now forecast to be 5.1. The cost of living is out of control.
"Doing the groceries, filling up the car and paying the rent is more expensive because of Labour's out of control borrowing and spending - but wages aren't keeping up. Workers are going backwards under Labour.
"HYEFU also reveals how much debt our kids and grandkids will have repay. Net core Crown debt will grow to $165.5 billion in 2024. Taxes will have to rise, or spending will have to be cut, to pay for Labour's out-of-control spending."
2:15pm - More locations of interest or potential exposure events have been identified in Taranaki after the Ministry of Health confirmed 15 people have tested positive in the township of Eltham, where a case was reported over the weekend.
The new or updated locations of interest are:
- Unkas Jewellers, Hāwera
- Z Service Station, Hāwera
- Matamata Markets, Matamata
- Bunnings, Hāwera.
Four separate potential exposure events have been identified for Z Service Station on South Rd in Hāwera.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
2:05pm - Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill has confirmed that all volunteers assisting with the police-led checkpoints in Northland have been vetted.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hone Harawira, a former MP and the founder of the iwi-led group, Te Tai Tokerau Border Control, said he was disappointed that police had insisted on vetting volunteers before allowing them to assist with the management of the checkpoints.
The two checkpoints officially came into force last night in Uretiti and Maungaturoto, allowing police to perform spot-checks on northbound vehicles to ensure they are carrying the correct documentation. In order to travel, Aucklanders must either be fully vaccinated or have evidence of a negative test in the preceding 72 hours. Auckland's regional boundary reopened at 11:59pm, allowing domestic travel in and out of the region to resume for the first time in months.
In a statement to Newshub, Superintendent Hill confirmed iwi volunteers stationed at the checkpoints have been formally vetted by police.
"The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act requires all of those working on the checkpoint line alongside police to be vetted," he said.
"Planning and logistics for the checkpoints have been going right up until Tuesday and so police have had short time-frames to ensure vetting was completed.
"All those who are working on the line with Police have been vetted.
"Those who did not pass vetting will still be able to work as TBC volunteers in other support roles and will not be interacting with the public."
1:55pm - Fourteen aircrew are currently isolating in a managed isolation facility after coming into contact with a person who later tested positive for the Omicron variant in Australia, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health confirmed to Newshub.
The flight crew are being tested on Wednesday, the spokesperson said, with the results expected on Thursday.
It's understood two pilots are also in a managed isolation facility and have been identified as casual contacts, while the 14 aircrew are considered close contacts.
The affected personnel underwent pre-departure PCR tests before flying to New Zealand, the spokesperson said, which have returned negative results.
The 14 individuals will remain in the facility for 10 days and undergo further testing.
All of the 34 passengers on-board the same flight to New Zealand are also in a managed isolation facility as per international arrival requirements - 33 have returned a negative day 0/1 test, and one person is exempt from testing due to age.
"A wide range of infection prevention controls and PPE requirements are in place in MIQ facilities, in airports and on flights to keep people safe from COVID-19 and reduce the risk of potential transmission," the spokesperson told Newshub.
"The ministry continues to assess the settings at the border in light of emerging evidence regarding the Omicron variant. Whole genome sequencing has not detected any cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand.
"At this stage, because no cases have been detected from the flight, the name of the flight and airline is not being released, noting there is not a pressing public health need to do so."
1:40pm - A full two-dose course of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine "appears to have prevented any New Zealander entering ICU," according to Chief Medical Officer Andrew Connolly.
Dr Connolly made the revelation to Parliament's Health Select Committee on Wednesday as Health Minister Andrew Little was grilled by MPs about the Government's intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.
The Government has come under fire for not spending any of its $50 billion COVID-19 fund on new ICU beds, with National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti asking Little during the briefing if it was "a fair statement to make" that more could have been done to prepare for an outbreak.
"The approach we took was, there's the beds in an ICU ward or an HDU, and then there's other beds that can be used for equivalent level care, and the advice I've had is that hospitals - were there an additional demand caused by COVID - they would be able to convert sufficient beds to meet an expected level of demand, were there to be some sort of surge," Little said.
"But I think Dr Reti, you're right, all the commentary is that even before COVID, we were underdone nationwide in terms of ICU capacity."
Little said population growth would warrant another hospital the size of Counties Manukau or Canterbury, but "we didn't add that capacity to the health system", which he described as an historical issue.
Little recently announced a boost of hundreds of millions of dollars for ICU capacity, almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. The additional ICU beds are planned to be operational in Canterbury, Waitematā and Bay of Plenty DHBs next year.
Little argues that additional ICU beds are only part of the solution and the Government's strategy was to prevent people needing ICU by driving vaccination. The latest data shows 89 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.
"Andrew Connolly will correct me if I'm wrong, but 100 percent of those who wound up in ICU are unvaccinated," Little said.
"Exactly right minister, the double dose appears to have prevented any New Zealander entering the ICU," Dr Connolly replied. "Certainly no fully vaccinated patients with COVID have ended up in ICU.
"There have been, of course, very elderly patients double-dosed who, due to their general comorbidities and so forth, have died with COVID, not necessarily of - but clinicians discussing with their families felt that ICU care was not appropriate."
1:30pm - The Government's final financial update of 2021 shows spending is higher than tax intake and inflation will continue to outpace wage growth.
Treasury's latest economic and fiscal update, known as HYEFU, shows strong tax revenue - $98 billion - has been offset by the Government's COVID-19 financial support, resulting in a $20.8 billion deficit.
This is expected to improve as the Government winds back its response to the Delta variant, resulting in a financial recovery in 2022-2023 and a return to surplus in 2023-2024. But that's all dependent on how serious the new 'variant of concern', Omicron, turns out to be.
The Government's financial position will be helped by rising tax revenue in the coming years. Compared to the $98 billion in 2021, it's expected to grow to $102.6 billion in 2022, eventually reaching $134.5 billion in 2026.
While unemployment is at a record-low 3.4 percent and is expected to drop to 3.2 percent next year, the bad news for Kiwis is that wage growth is not keeping up with inflation, meaning it will cost more to live.
Inflation is forecast to peak at 5.6 percent in the March 2022 quarter, up from 4.9 percent, which Treasury notes is "significantly higher than the peak expected" in the Government's Budget update earlier this year.
By comparison, wage growth is forecast to reach a peak of 4.6 percent in the December 2023 quarter, before tapering off to annual growth of 4.2 percent. The numbers clearly show that wages will not keep up with the rising cost of living.
"There is no doubt this will put pressure on the cost of living, especially for low-income households," Finance Minister Grant Robertson told reporters on Wednesday. He said it was important to note that inflation is a "global phenomenon" due to COVID-19.
1:25pm - Strong Govt accounts and economic outlook
The Government's books are forecast to be back in surplus sooner than expected as economic and fiscal outlooks improve, according to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
The Treasury on Wednesday released its latest economic and fiscal forecasts in the 2021 Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update.
"The New Zealand economy has performed well since the beginning of 2021, though that strength has been tested by the arrival of [the] Delta [variant]," Robertson said in an official statement on Wednesday afternoon.
"While the Treasury is forecasting a decline in GDP in the September quarter, the outlook is positive with a forecast bounce back in the December quarter of 3.7 percent.
"The labour market continues to be resilient with unemployment falling to a record 3.4 percent in the September quarter and Treasury forecasting a further drop to 3.1 percent in the March quarter before heading towards 4.1 percent at the end of the forecast period.
"Inflation is forecast to peak in the March quarter next year then fall across the rest of 2022 towards the Reserve Bank's two percent mid-point over the rest of the forecast period."
While the Operating Balance before Gains and Losses (OBEGAL) deficit increases in the current year, it is expected to return to surplus in 2023/24. This is earlier than expected - at Budget 2021, the books were not projected to return to surplus until 2026/27.
Net debt is forecast to peak at 40.1 percent of GDP in 2022/23 before falling to 30.2 percent at the end of the forecast period. This is lower than the peak of 48 percent forecast at Budget 2021.
Core Crown expenses are forecast to drop significantly from 35.3 percent of GDP to 30.5 percent next year, and then track lower over the rest of the forecast period.
"We can look forward to 2022 with cautious optimism as the economic and fiscal outlook is good. Our Government invested in our people and businesses through the Delta outbreak and that investment is paying off as the economy recovers," Robertson continued.
"There are challenges ahead with supply chain disruptions, higher inflation and ongoing COVID-19 impacts that may affect these forecasts, but New Zealand is well placed to meet those challenges."
1:15pm - Here are Wednesday's regional updates from the Ministry of Health:
Today, we are reporting new community cases in Auckland, Waikato, Lakes and Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.
The Canterbury case officially added to today's figures was announced on Tuesday but came in after the morning cut-off period.
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.
Death of a patient with COVID-19
The Ministry of Health can confirm that a patient with COVID-19 has passed away at Tauranga Hospital.
The family has requested that no further details be released and out of respect for those wishes, we will be making no further comment at this time.
Our thoughts are with the patient's whānau and friends at this deeply sad time.
Today, there are 56 new cases to report in Auckland.
The number of community cases in the Auckland region decreased for the third consecutive week, with 22 percent fewer cases than the week prior. This decline is mirrored across all three Auckland Metro DHBs.
Health and welfare providers are now supporting 1971 people to isolate at home, including 474 cases.
In the Waikato, nine new cases were reported overnight; five are in Te Kūiti and four are in Hamilton. All are currently under investigation for links to previous cases.
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.
There are two cases receiving care at Waikato Hospital.
Health and welfare providers are supporting 71 cases to isolate at home.
Bay of Plenty
There are seven cases to report in Tauranga today. Four are linked to previously reported cases, while the other three are still being investigated for potential links. 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 still being investigated.
Today, we are announcing 15 new cases of COVID-19 in the Taranaki township of Eltham. As these 15 cases were reported overnight, they will be officially added to Thursday's tally.
The cases are self-isolating and initial interviews suggest they are all linked to the Eltham case reported over the weekend. Four of these new cases already have confirmed links.
Investigations are also underway to identify, isolate and test any close contacts and determine any locations of interest. People in Taranaki are asked to monitor the ministry's list of locations of interest, which is updated regularly.
If you have symptoms, no matter how mild, please get tested, even if you are vaccinated, and stay at home until you return a negative result.
COVID-19 testing is available today in Taranaki at:
Taranaki Base Hospital testing centre, David Street from 9am to 3pm
Hāwera Hospital, 37 Hunter Street from 10am to 2pm
Eltham Health Centre, 132 high Street until 4:30pm.
Further testing locations and times and vaccination centre details across Taranaki are available on the Taranaki DHB website. Additional testing capacity will be stood up if, and when, its needed.
The majority of these new cases are pupils who usually attend a school in Eltham, which is now closed for the summer break. Local public health officials are already working with the school on public health advice for the school community, including isolation and testing for some individuals.
Media releases from Thursday, December 16
From Thursday, the ministry's 1pm media release will be published as a news article on the ministry website at the usual time and tweeted on publication.
This reflects the move to a more business-as-usual approach for reporting on the COVID-19 response.
Over the Christmas break there will be regular COVID-19 updates published and tweeted each day, apart from:
- Saturday, December 25
- Saturday, January 1
- Saturday, January 8.
1:14pm - There are 74 new cases of COVID-19 to report on Wednesday and one additional death, a patient at Tauranga Hospital.
There are 15 new cases of COVID-19 to report in the Taranaki township of Eltham. As these 15 cases were reported overnight, they will be officially added to Thursday's tally.
Here's the full statement from the Ministry of Health:
All three Auckland DHBs reach 90 pct; 1 death; 74 community cases; 61 people in hospital, 4 in ICU
Counties Manukau DHB has now fully vaccinated 90 percent of its eligible population, bringing all three Auckland Metro DHBs to 90 percent or more double-dose vaccination, with Auckland DHB sitting on 95 percent and Waitemata DHB on 92 percent.
Six DHBs in total now have 90 percent of their eligible populations fully vaccinated. The following DHBs are all close behind, sitting on 89 percent - the numbers required to get to 90 percent are in brackets:
Midcentral (1755 doses to go)
Wairarapa (395 to go)
Nelson Marlborough (1905 to go)
South Canterbury (750 to go).
New Zealand is just 7417 doses away from reaching a national double-dose vaccination rate of 90 percent, which we expect to achieve in the next day or two.
It's important testing advice is followed correctly to ensure results continue to be returned in a timely way. The ministry understands that some people are being tested unnecessarily or at the wrong places.
Unvaccinated people require a COVID-19 test for some travel, including to leave Auckland. These people need to get a supervised rapid antigen test from a pharmacy within 72 hours of departure.
This testing is only for people over the age of 12 years, three months, who are not fully vaccinated and do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.
The location and hours of pharmacies offering rapid antigen tests is available from Healthpoint. We ask people getting a rapid antigen test to be patient and kind to pharmacy staff while the system is fine-tuned.
Remember, if you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should call Healthline for advice about getting a PCR test.
Temporary exemptions for My Vaccine Pass
Earlier this month, 70,000 people who were vaccinated overseas or had incorrect data were emailed a temporary exemption letter, excusing them from the requirement to produce a My Vaccine Pass at businesses and venues.
The majority of these people have now received their My Vaccine Pass and we are issuing a further temporary exemption letter today to some whose applications are still being processed.
About 5000 people are getting a week-long exemption while their requests for My Vaccine Passes are cleared, while 20,000 people vaccinated overseas will get an extension to January 17, 2022 while their vaccinations are verified.
COVID-19 vaccine update
Vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people)
3,954,873 first doses (94 pct); 3,766,864 second doses (89 pct); 22,321 third primary doses; 174,719 booster doses
Vaccines administered yesterday
2,485 first doses; 7,877 second doses; 869 third primary doses and 9,229 booster doses.
Māori (percentage of eligible people)
492,749 first doses (86 pct); 432,861 second doses (76 pct)
Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people)
267,334 first doses (93 pct); second doses 249,124 (87 pct)
Vaccination rates by DHB with active cases (percentage of eligible people)
First doses (88 pct); second doses (81 pct)
Auckland Metro DHBs
First doses (95 pct); second doses (92 pct)
First doses (93 pct); second doses (88 pct)
Bay of Plenty DHB
First doses (93 pct); second doses (86 pct)
First doses (91 pct); second doses (84 pct)
First doses (92 pct); second doses (86 pct)
First doses (90 pct); second doses (84 pct)
Hawke's Bay DHB
First doses (94 pct); second doses (87 pct)
First doses (94 pct); second doses (89 pct)
First doses (97 pct); second doses (93 pct)
Cases in hospital
61; North Shore: 11; Auckland: 24; Middlemore: 22; Waikato: 2; Tauranga: 1, Christchurch: 1.
Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only)
Unvaccinated or not eligible (44 cases / 59 pct); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (10 cases / 14 pct); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (20 cases/ 27 pct); unknown (0 cases / 0 pct)
Average age of current hospitalisations
Cases in ICU or HDU
4 (2 in Auckland; 2 in Middlemore)
Seven day rolling average of community cases
Number of new community cases
Number of new cases identified at the border
Location of new community cases
Auckland (56), Waikato (9), Bay of Plenty (7), Lakes (1), Canterbury (1*).
Number of community cases (total)
9,963 (in current community outbreak)
Number of active cases (total)
2,303 (not recovered cases added in past 21 days)
Confirmed cases (total)
Cases epidemiologically linked (total)
Number of active contacts being managed (total):
Percentage who have received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements)
Percentage who have returned at least one result
Number of tests total (last 24 hours)
Tests rolling average (last 7 days)
Auckland tests total (last 24 hours)
No unexpected results to report
NZ COVID Tracer
Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday
Manual diary entries in 24 hours to midday
My Vaccine Pass
My vaccine pass downloads total
My vaccine pass downloads (last 24 hours)
1:05pm - We are standing by for the latest update from the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, several new locations of interest have been identified as of 1pm, all of which are in Taranaki - predominantly in Hāwera.
- Four Square, Manaia
- Z Service Station, Hāwera
- Bunnings, Hāwera
- Pak'nSave, Hāwera.
- Sweet Dairy, Manaia.
There are three separate potential exposure events for Z Service Station.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
12:50pm - Counties Manukau DHB hits golden 90 percent double-dose figure
Auckland's biggest District Health Board (DHB) has officially vaccinated 90 percent of its eligible population.
Counties Manukau, which has the second biggest eligible Māori population for a DHB and the biggest eligible Pacific population in Aotearoa, has joined Auckland and Waitematā DHBs in reaching the milestone.
Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Margie Apa says it's an enormous feat.
"Our DHB is home to the most diverse communities in New Zealand and we want to thank everyone for coming together to support and protect each other.
"This tremendous result is testament to the uniquely Counties approach that has seen DHB health teams supported by our regional colleagues, Māori and Pacific health provider partners and community NGOs work collaboratively especially over the last few months to seek out the harder-to-reach pockets in the community.
"This is the result of teams of teams working together through mass vaccination events, GPs and pharmacies, countless pop-up clinics, neighbourhood outreach that includes door-to-door campaigns to bring the vaccine to as many people as possible.
"Let us all - our provider partners, staff, volunteers, church leaders and community organisers included - take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of this milestone today. I cannot recall any other population health campaign that has reached this kind of scale - thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who played a part in reaching this target."
Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) vaccination programme director, Matt Hannant, echoed those sentiments.
"I'm thrilled that all three DHBs are in such a strong position going into the summer holidays. This will help families gathering together at Christmas to protect each other, as well as other regions of New Zealand for those who are travelling to reunite with their loved ones," Hannant said on Wednesday.
"We do however still have work ahead of us. While its great to see the city reach double dose, our job isn't done until we achieve better than 90 per cent for Māori, Pacific and communities that are vulnerable to the poor outcomes of COVID-19."
People wanting to get vaccinated can head to one of 300-plus GPs and pharmacies across Auckland participating in the roll-out, or walk in at any vaccination centre. Full details of opening hours and sites can be found at vaccinateforauckland.nz.
If you're over 18 years old and it's been at least six months since your second dose, you are now eligible for a booster. You can book an appointment online using the Book My Vaccine website or by calling 0800 28 29 26. Booster doses are available at all community vaccination centres and vaccinating GPs and pharmacies.
For those wanting to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, bookings can now be made online at Book My Vaccine. Here's a link to an interactive map showing the list of vaccination sites across Tāmaki Makaurau that are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine: vaccinateforauckland.nz.
12:35pm - There is no press conference today. The Ministry of Health will reveal the latest updates - including the number of new cases in Taranaki - in a statement at 1pm.
12:20pm - Government officials believe the pre-departure testing requirement in place for unvaccinated travellers might only catch a quarter of the COVID-19 cases leaving Auckland.
To leave Auckland, unvaccinated people are required to show a negative test received within the previous 72 hours. A negative test is not needed for vaccinated people or children under 12 at any land or air border.
The Government's modelling expects up to 50 percent of infections could be in vaccinated people, according to a Cabinet paper from November 15 - that is with vaccination rates of 90 percent, a milestone Auckland has already surpassed.
Another 25 percent of cases could be in children under 12, the paper said.
This means around 75 percent of cases travelling across the border will be those who are not required to present evidence of a negative test in order to leave.
The paper, prepared by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's COVID-19 Group, later laid bare the clear expectation of the virus' spread across the country.
"By definition, the true extent of undetected infection in Auckland is not known. Any loosening of the boundary with Auckland, coupled with high numbers of reported cases in Auckland, would mean that we must expect infected people to travel across New Zealand," it said.
"In communities with lower rates of vaccination, transmission can be expected to be quicker. This means that outbreaks would be larger at the point they are detected, and harder to contain once they are detected."
12:10pm - A journalist for the New Zealand Herald and Whanganui Chronicle says a district councillor in South Taranaki has confirmed there are now "over a dozen" cases of COVID-19 in the town of Eltham. As previously reported, it's understood 11 are centred around one small South Taranaki school.
12:05pm - Four new locations of interest have been identified as of 12pm:
- The Seaside Night Market, Ngamotu Beach, Moturoa, New Plymouth
- Pizza Hut, Hawera
- The Bottle O, Tauriko, Tauranga
- Taylor Bros Transport Ltd, Greerton, Tauranga.
It is the first location of interest to be identified in Hāwera in recent times and the first for New Plymouth in almost two weeks.
For the relevant dates, times and public health advice, click here.
11:50am - The Explore Tāmaki Makaurau Voucher Programme registration is now live and open for Aucklanders to register for the chance to receive one of 100,000 vouchers that can cover, or contribute towards, enjoying a range of experiences this summer.
Aucklanders can register to receive either one $100 family voucher or one $50 individual voucher. The value of the voucher can be used to cover or contribute towards the value of eligible activities and attractions on Bookme.
Registrations are open from December 15 to February 25. The 100,000 vouchers will be randomly allocated in four draws, with 25,000 vouchers to be allocated at a time on January 15, February 1, February 15 and March 1.
Mayor Phil Goff is encouraging Aucklanders to make the most of the opportunity to get out and explore their region over the summer months.
"I welcome this programme which helps recognise the huge sacrifices that Aucklanders have made since August to help keep the rest of the country safe," he said on Wednesday..
"With the city having now transitioned to the COVID-19 Protection Framework and Aucklanders enjoying many of their freedoms once again, this is a great way to acknowledge Aucklanders for their hard work and support them to have a proper Kiwi summer.
"It will also provide a boost to businesses that have been under real pressure as the result of the necessary COVID-19 restrictions, both through direct voucher benefits to businesses and the wider stimulus it will provide to the regional economy as people move around the city and spend at other venues such as cafes, bars and restaurants.
"I look forward to families and people across our region taking advantage of these vouchers and enjoying some of the world-class attractions that help to make Auckland such a great place to live in and visit."
How Aucklanders can take part:
Register: Aucklanders can register now until February 25 at http://www.exploreaucklandnow.co.nz/ for the chance to receive a voucher.
Receive: Once registered, the entrant will have the chance to be allocated a voucher in one of four draws. Entrants will be notified by email.
Redeem: If allocated a voucher, the value of the voucher can be used to cover or contribute towards the cost of eligible Auckland experiences on Bookme.co.nz.
The region's economic and cultural agency, Auckland Unlimited, is delivering the voucher programme on behalf of the Government.
Eligible operators are encouraged to take part in the programme by offering experiences that the vouchers can be put towards on Bookme.co.nz. Further information for businesses, including eligibility, is available here.
The Explore Tāmaki Makaurau Voucher Programme is one programme of the Reactivating Tāmaki Makaurau Support Package announced by the New Zealand Government on December 1, 2021. Other programmes include the Explore Tāmaki Makaurau Discount Programme and the Local Activation Programme. Further information on these programmes is available at www.aucklandnz.com/reactivate.
11:25am - Two new potential exposure events have been identified by the Ministry of Health as of 11am. BP Connect in Tauriko, Tauranga and Carlisle Street Convenience Store in Greerton, Tauranga were visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19 on December 9 and December 7 respectively.
For the relevant times and public health advice, click here.
11:10am - According to reports, 11 cases of COVID-19 have been detected at a small, South Taranaki school as the regions braces for a burgeoning outbreak.
At least two cases, understood to be in both Eltham and Hāwera, were initially reported on Tuesday night.
Speaking to Stuff on Wednesday, South Taranaki Mayor Phil Nixon said one person has tested positive in Hāwera, while the remaining cases have been detected in Eltham. He said there appears to be a link between the Hāwera case and an infection in Eltham reported on December 11, he said.
''According to the DHB there are 11 students all from the same class. It's a real little cluster," he told the outlet.
The Taranaki District Health Board confirmed earlier on Wednesday that "a number of positive COVID-19 infections" have been detected, all of which are associated with the Eltham case announced over the weekend.
"The new cases are currently isolating at home," the DHB said.
"Case investigation work is underway to identify any close contacts and locations of interest. More details will be shared publicly when confirmed. Thank you for your patience."
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has said there are "multiple cases" involved in the "growing cluster". The MP is assisting with testing in Hāwera on Wednesday.
The new cases are not believed to be linked to the three active cases in North Taranaki - two cases have been reported in New Plymouth and one in Waitara.
11am - Across the Tasman, New South Wales has recorded 1360 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday (local time) - a 69 percent increase compared to the 804 infections reported on Tuesday.
Tuesday's tally also represented a significant increase, rising by almost 300 from Monday's 536 infections.
10:50pm - Police stationed at Northland's two 'community compliance' checkpoints say that so far, no one has been turned around and stopped from travelling into the region.
Officers, assisted by the local, iwi-led group Te Tai Tokerau Border Control, are performing spot-checks on northbound vehicles travelling along SH1 and SH12 at Uretiti and Maungaturoto respectively. Motorists who are stopped at the checkpoints are asked to show proof they are either fully vaccinated or have received a negative test result in the preceding 72 hours.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said so far, every stopped vehicle has met the requirements and been allowed to pass through.
"This is the first time that it's a police-led operation, in terms of checking that people are complying with the requirements set by the Government," Hill told RNZ.
"We weren't really sure what we'd see - but what we are seeing is that people are coming up and are prepared."
10:35pm - Anyone presenting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in Taranaki is urged to get tested.
The District Health Board said on Wednesday morning that multiple cases have been detected in the region in connection to a case in Eltham reported over the weekend.
"Our contact tracers are working hard on this and the Ministry of Health will announce any public locations of interest," it said.
10:20pm - Nearly a dozen people have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection to a recent case at Eltham Primary in Taranaki, Newshub understands.
According to Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, iwi-run surveillance saliva testing has picked up nearly a dozen infections. Earlier on Wednesday morning, Taranaki District Health Board (DHB) confirmed "a number" of cases have been detected, associated with the Eltham infection.
The exact number of cases will not be confirmed until the Ministry of Health releases a statement at 1pm.
On Tuesday night, Ngarewa-Packer confirmed "multiple cases" had been reported to the Ministry of Health.
"It looks like we have a growing cluster," she said on Facebook.
In a post on Wednesday morning, the MP, who is assisting with community saliva in Hāwera, reiterated that "multiple cases" have been picked up.
10:05am - Sixteen flight crew and two pilots are isolating after coming into contact with a person on a flight to Australia who later tested positive for the Omicron variant.
The Ministry of Health confirmed to the New Zealand Herald that 16 crew members have been identified as cloe contacts and the two pilots are considered casual contacts.
The affected crew are not employed by Air New Zealand, the national carrier confirmed to Newshub on Tuesday.
The crew's exposure to the recently identified "variant of concern", which first emerged in southern Africa, was announced by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday afternoon. The agency confirmed the crew members had arrived in New Zealand on Monday night and were taken to a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility.
According to the Herald, the crew have returned negative results.
A spokesperson for the ministry said the overseas-based air crew are required to stay in a managed isolation facility for the duration of their layover in New Zealand. They are also required to follow a wide range of PPE and IPC protocols to reduce the risk of transmission.
The spokesperson told the outlet that the ministry had decided not to provide the details of the airline or flight as there was "no pressing public health need".
Contact tracing and investigations are ongoing. All international arrivals are required to isolate in a MIQ facility for seven days and have three tests during that time, the spokesperson said.
After returning negative tests, they are then required to self-isolate at a private residence and return a final negative test on day nine before being released.
9:55am - National Party leader Christopher Luxon says the Government has failed to provide clear-cut information regarding the process at Auckland's borders following the region's reopening last night.
Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report, Luxon said the Government's messaging has been inconsistent and vague around the nature of spot-checks at the regional border. He said he still doesn't understood if the checks will be conducted at random or in a controlled manner.
"The concern I've got is essentially, there's 10,000 people on a normal day going north from Auckland through those checkpoints, and if you're going to check everyone for two minutes, that's 300 hours. If you're going to do it one in 10, that's 30 hours, and below one in 10, you sort of ask, 'what’s the point?' So that's been our issue, is the inconsistency," Luxon said.
Regarding the roll-out of rapid antigen testing at participating pharmacies for unvaccinated, asymptomatic people, Luxon said the tests are not available "in sufficient quantities", indicating the swabs should be made more widely accessible.
"The reality is we'll continue to have variants, we'll continue to have pandemics and we need to make sure we get these things done. Antigen testing has been slow… it's not available in sufficient quantities," he said.
9:45am - An international study on the impact of COVID-19 vaccination passes has found the documents can encourage more people to get inoculated against the virus.
The study examined six countries that have introduced the passes to ensure only the fully vaccinated can access certain public spaces. People who have evidence of a negative test or proof of a previous infection are also able to access the same facilities.
The research found that implementing the passes resulted in a significant boost to vaccine uptake in four of the six countries. The increase in vaccinations was particularly evident in what the study called 'vaccine complacent' groups, such as younger people and men.
However, the authors of the study have cautioned that vaccine passports are not a "silver bullet" in the fight against COVID-19.
9:35am - A lack of visas is severely impacting sectors nationwide, industry groups say, with the current restrictions at the border adding layers of complexity to an already struggling immigration system
Employer advocacy group BusinessNZ says it supports the calls for greater certainty from the Government regarding its plans for the border and immigration system, allowing companies to plan for the coming year.
BusinessNZ's director of advocacy, Catherine Beard, says the current exception process is only complicating an already struggling system that does not meet the needs of business.
"Industries which have exceptions are still unable to get enough people into the country," Beard said on Wednesday.
"Like the Meat Industry Association requesting a minimum of 45 visas for halal butchers to continue producing halal meat in New Zealand and only having one third of that approved - or NZ Tech, who's 600 border exceptions only fill 20 percent of what sector needs."
Beard says the Government must give businesses greater certainty on their plans for the border and immigration system as 2022 looms.
"As we’ve seen this week with the 300 teachers who have not been able to make it to New Zealand, the closed border is having major impacts on both the private and public sector delivery of goods and services, from food production to our healthcare system."
9:25am - A number of people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Taranaki after a case in Eltham was reported over the weekend, according to Taranaki District Health Board (DHB).
In a statement posted to its Facebook on Wednesday morning, the DHB confirmed "a number of positive COVID-19 infections associated with the Eltham case" have been detected.
"The new cases are currently isolating at home. Case investigation work is underway to identify any close contacts and locations of interest. More details will be shared publicly when confirmed. Thank you for your patience," it said.
"Locations considered high risk to the public will be shared on the Ministry of Health's website as soon as they're available."
Testing is available on Wednesday at Eltham Kohanga Reo, run by Ngāruahine, from 10am to 1pm. Swabs are also being taken at Taranaki Base Hospital between 9am and 3pm in New Plymouth and at Hāwera Hospital between 10am and 2pm.
Anyone who is not experiencing symptoms but who wishes to be tested should have a surveillance saliva test. These are available from 9:30am to 4pm at Hāwera TSB Hub car park, Waihi Rd - run by Ngāti Ruanui.
Further testing locations and times across Taranaki can be found here.
9:15am - In case you missed it, former Māori Party MP Hone Harawira has said that police have been vetting members of his iwi-led group, Tai Tokerau Border Control, ahead of the establishment of checkpoints in Northland on Tuesday night.
Harawira told RNZ's Morning Report the vetting was ordered at the last minute, saying the process has forced a number of volunteers to be temporarily stood down.
"Our people, over the last 18 to 20 months, have included bus drivers, gang members, doctors, lawyers, mothers, teachers - all sorts of people. Now, all of a sudden at the last minute, it got dropped on us that everyone had to be vetted."
Tai Tokerau Border Control is assisting the police at the checkpoints to ensure all travellers into Northland are either fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative test in the preceding 72 hours.
"If it was that reasonable [to vet us], they could have asked us months and months and months ago. They could have asked us in March 2020," Harawira continued.
"They didn't ask us until two days ago so that's really knocked everything on the head… iwi isn't going to let us come out here and put murderers on the line and, as it happens, over the last 18 to 20 months we've had no problems whatsoever."
Tai Tokerau Border Control regional coordinator, Reuben Taipari, told RNZ the vetting is "very unfortunate".
"We've got people coming from all over the north - from up Karikari, Waitangi - all coming down here and wanting to help and support this initiative, and then we've been told... 'They must be all vetted before they can stand on the road.' And yet we've been together for 20 months and this has never been asked of us before.
"Why are they doing that to us today of all days?"
9am - COVID-19 infections are more likely to trigger rare cardiovascular complications such as heart inflammation and irregular heartbeat than vaccines, a British study showed on Tuesday (local time) after scientists parsed data of about 38 million vaccinated people.
The study, published in the Nature Medicine journal, compared the risk of developing myocarditis, pericarditis and cardiac arrhythmia following a first and second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine - from AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna - with coronavirus infection.
The study, led by Oxford University researchers, found an increased risk of myocarditis with first doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, as well as both doses of Moderna, but the risk was much higher after contracting COVID-19.
Conclusions were arrived at by assessing rates of hospitalisations or death from the conditions within 28 days of vaccination or a positive PCR test for individuals 16 years and older and vaccinated between December 1, 2020 and August 24, 2021.
"We estimated between one and 10 extra events of myocarditis in 1 million people vaccinated with a first or second dose, but 40 extra cases in 1 million people infected with COVID-19," Oxford professor and study lead Julia Hippisley-Cox said.
An analysis by age also showed that higher risk of myocarditis, associated with mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech to Moderna, was present only in those younger than 40 years of age, researchers said.
"The observation [on heart conditions]... is not new information. We already know this. But this solid, scientifically robust paper supports and confirms this," said Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control.
8:50am - Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine has been less effective in South Africa at keeping people infected with the virus out of hospital since the Omicron variant emerged last month, according to the results of a real-world study published on Tuesday.
Between November 15 and December 7, people who had received two doses of the vaccine and tested positive for COVID-19 had a 70 percent chance of avoiding hospitalisation, down from 93 percent during the previous wave of infections with the Delta variant, the study showed.
When it came to avoiding infection altogether, the study by South Africa's largest private health insurance administrator, Discovery Health, showed that protection against contracting COVID-19 had slumped to 33 percent from 80 percent previously.
The findings from the real-world analysis are some of the first regarding the protection vaccines offer against the Omicron variant outside of laboratory studies, which have so far shown a reduced ability to neutralise the virus.
The study results were based on an analysis by Discovery's clinical research and actuarial teams in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
8:40am - The Omicron variant is estimated to compromise 2.9 percent of the strains currently circulating in the US, up from just 0.4 percent the week prior. It's even more common in New York, now making up 13.1 percent of all coronavirus strains in the city.
The seven-day average of new cases has increased by 37.3 percent in the US, with death rates and hospitalisations also moving up - on average, 1276 people are dying per day, up 40 percent in the past two weeks.
Africa is experiencing its quickest surge in cases this year, the number up 83 percent in the past week. The number of new infections in the continent is currently doubling every five days, the shortest time-frame reported this year. As of Monday (local time), only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10 percent of their population, according to the World Health Organization. Some countries, like Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad, have vaccinated less than 1 percent.
Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine has been less effective at reducing the number of COVID-related hospitalisations in South Africa since the Omicron variant emerged last month, a real-world study published on Tuesday showed.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a large rebellion among his Conservative lawmakers on Tuesday (local time) in a Parliamentary vote over the new restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab there were 10 people in hospital with the strain.
Britain reported 59,610 new cases on Tuesday, the highest figure since early January, as it faces what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called a "tidal wave" of Omicron infections. Official data shows there have been 150 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
The British government will remove all 11 countries from its travel 'red list' from Wednesday (local time) as there is now community transmission of Omicron in Britain, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament.
The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is showing a higher rate of reinfection that other strains and its growth rate is shortening in the UK, the Health Security Agency's chief medical adviser said on Tuesday - doubling every two days.
8:25am - A hapū iwi collective of Patuharakeke, Te Parawhau and Ngātiwai are working together to provide support to the front-line volunteers stationed at the Uretiti checkpoint from December 15 to December 20.
"It's important those workers on the front-line have warm kai in their bellies with the rain setting in. As hapū iwi we are here to support the cultural safety of those working on the front line of our rohe," Pari Walker, kaumātua of Te Parawhau, said on Wednesday morning.
The checkpoints, led by NZ Police and supported by Tai Tokerau Border Control, will remain in place at Uretiti and Maungatūroto from 11:59pm on Tuesday, December 14 to Monday, December 20.
"We encourage our whānau and those travelling north for the holidays to ensure they have either had a COVID-19 test or are double-vaxxed - that way they can come through the border checks quickly," said Deborah Harding, Chair of Patuharakeke Trust.
"Vaccination remains a top priority in our work as iwi, alongside the District Health Board, Primary Care and Māori Providers we continue to focus on acceleration of vaccination rates, we will maintain this work over the summer period," Aperahama Edwards, Chair of Ngātiwai Trust Board, added.
Hapū iwi support at the borders will be offered across Maungatūroto through Te Uri o Hau and Ngāti Whātua, with Patuharakeke, Te Parawhau and Ngātiwai coordinating in Uretiti.
"This is our joined-up effort to support Uretiti border control operations as we look to safeguard the wellness of all our whānau in the region and those returning to the North for the Christmas break," said Huhana Lyndon, Raukura CEO of Ngātiwai Trust Board.
8:10am - Here's a recap from police on what Northland's 'community compliance' checkpoints are and what to expect if you're travelling in the region:
Northland Community Compliance Checkpoints
- Community Compliance Checkpoints in Northland have been set up at two locations and officially came into force when Auckland's regional boundary lifted at 11:59pm on Tuesday.
- The Health Order requires people travelling from Auckland to other regions to be either fully vaccinated or have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test within the preceding 72 hours.
- Northland locals and residents travelling from regions outside of Auckland may be asked to show proof of address.
- The checkpoints are located in Uretiti on SH1 and on SH12 at Maungaturoto from 11:59pm, Tuesday, December 14 and are for northbound traffic only.
- Police and Waka Kotahi have traffic management plans in place to move vehicles through the checkpoints as efficiently as possible, however there may be delays, so factor this into your travel plans.
- Police staff from within and outside Northland will manage the checkpoints, with support from police recruits from the Royal New Zealand Police College and iwi representatives.
- Iwi representatives volunteering at the checkpoints have been vetted by police and provided with training on their roles.
- The Community Compliance checkpoints have been established based on the concerns of iwi leaders regarding the risk of COVID-19 and the possible impacts on their vulnerable communities.
- "Following discussion with iwi, we have determined that the fixed checkpoints and spot-checks provide an appropriate level of reassurance to keep both locals and visitors safe," Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said on Tuesday.
- Police will also be engaging with visitors to remind them of the ways they can keep themselves and their regional hosts safe: vaccination, face coverings and scanning in.
- The Community Compliance Checkpoints are police-led. Only police have the power to stop vehicles and issue infringement notices.
- Staff are working closely with volunteers to ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible.
- This does not mean that every vehicle is being checked by police, but motorists should plan ahead and ensure they have the right documentation at the ready.
- Delivery trucks and service vehicles are being waived through the checkpoints to keep queues to a minimum.
- The Community Compliance Checkpoints will remain in place for a short time when the bulk of travel is expected to occur and will later be swapped out with spot-checks and reassurance visits.
7:55am - Around 40 iwi volunteers hoping to work alongside police to patrol Northland's checkpoints are currently being subjected to a last-minute vetting, says Te Tai Tokerau Border Control founder, Hone Harawira.
Two checkpoints have been erected at Uretiti on SH1 and Maungaturoto on SH12 to ensure people are either fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test before travelling through Northland. The checkpoints, which came into force when Auckland's regional boundary lifted at 11:59pm, will operate 24/7 in the short-term.
Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday, Harawira - the leader of the local, iwi-led group - said police have insisted on vetting his volunteers, a call that only could have come from Parliament.
The investigation is now being met with defiance, with Harawira arguing that although volunteers for Te Tai Tokerau Border Control come from all walks of life, no incidents have ever been recorded between the group and members of the public.
"At the last minute, they've called for vetting of our people. Our people, over the last 18 to 20 months, have included bus drivers, gang members, doctors, lawyers, mothers, teachers - all sorts of people," Harawira told Morning Report.
"Clearly that's come through from Wellington, so it must be part of that lte legislation that went through on this particular exercise. We've had to stand down about half of our people... They're insisting on a formal police vetting."
Harawira said about half of his volunteers have now been stood down from actively patrolling the border while the vetting process is underway.
"They're still here, helping out with getting some of the kai ready… but at the moment they have to stand down from the questioning and interviewing side of it," he said.
"They could've asked us months and months ago... they didn't ask us until two days ago. That's really knocked everything on the head… [we're not going to] come out here and put murderers on the line.
"Over the last 18 to 20 months, we've had no problems, no incidents between anyone from border control and the public."
7:40am - Between 60 and 70 percent of vehicles have been stopped at Northland's checkpoints for random spot-checks on Wednesday morning, former MP Hone Harawira told RNZ's Morning Report.
Speaking from one of the checkpoints, Harawira, the founder of local, iwi-led group Te Tai Tokerau Border Control, said he and his volunteers are working closely with police to ensure travellers have all the correct documentation in order to pass through into Northland.
The checkpoints have been erected at Uretiti and Maungaturoto at the insistence of iwi to ensure those entering Northland are either fully vaccinated or have evidence of a negative test for COVID-19. It's hoped the extra precautions at the border will protect the region's vulnerable communities as healthcare providers battle to boost local vaccination rates.
So far, no one has been turned around, Harawira said.
"We didn't have anyone turned around, clearly those who are coming through are coming through with all of their paperwork," he told Morning Report.
He noted that the majority of motorists have been smiling and helpful, with no issues encountered at this time.
"They're smiling at the moment, which is nice, because our aim isn't to try and upset people on the road, it's just to clarify their status. If they do get turned around, and that's a very small minority, then there's obvious reasons… a great majority are adhering to the process and are very helpful."
7:25am - Traffic in and out of Auckland has been "flowing freely" as the Super City officially re-joins the rest of the country.
In an update early on Wednesday morning, a police spokesperson said the removal of the checkpoints at Te Hana in the north and Mercer in the south went smoothly, with minimal delays to traffic.
There were small queues of cars waiting between 11pm and midnight. Officers estimated there were less than 100 cars lined up at the respective borders.
"This morning traffic appears to be flowing freely, however, we expect it to start building as normal for peak hour traffic," the spokesperson said.
"In Northland, the checkpoints have seen minimal traffic through and no issues overnight.
"Again, traffic is starting to build due to the time of morning so police will be keeping a close eye on this to ensure there are no significant delays."
A further update will be provided by police later on Wednesday morning.
7:20am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage on the COVID-19 outbreak for Wednesday, December 15.