COVID-19: Omicron outbreak could force New Zealand out of traffic light system and into alert levels again

Cars, caravans and thousands of cooped-up Aucklanders have been setting off for a Christmas break.

It's the summer down-under we hoped for - but in the Northern Hemisphere, the situation is worse than ever. Even those charged with caring for COVID patients are getting sick.

Cases in the UK are doubling every few days and a winter nightmare looms as officials consider a Christmas lockdown.

Across Europe, countries are swinging into action as Omicron spreads. France and Germany are tightening their borders and the streets of Amsterdam are virtually empty as it begins a four-week lockdown.

New South Wales recorded 2500 new cases on Monday. Despite much lower numbers in hospital, one immunologist says the state isn't ready to cope.

"Sydney is sleepwalking into a catastrophic disaster in January," he says.

Back home in New Zealand, there were 69 new community cases on Monday plus nine new Omicron cases in MIQ.

Cabinet has spent the day deciding on a change to booster shots in preparation for the new variant.

Currently, they're administered six months after the second jab, however one expert suggests moving it to five months.

"The thing about going too early is the vaccine booster effect doesn't work as well as when it's at five months or six months and one has to weigh that up," immunology professor and Malaghan Institute director Graham Le Gros says.

"It's better to have more people immunised and we have that when it's five to six months."

Some believe bigger changes to our COVID response are coming. Auckland University COVID modeller Dr Dion O'Neale says the traffic light system wasn't created with Omicron in mind.

"We wouldn't expect orange or even red to limit the spread of Omicron," he says.

"To be honest it's probably going to be going back to something like the alert level interventions."

News no one wants to hear as we wind down on a year of upheaval.