Twenty-nine people have now tested positive for the highly infectious Omicron variant in the community, 10 of whom were confirmed as cases on Tuesday.
The variant of COVID-19, which produces less severe illness but is incredibly transmissible, found a foothold in the community over the weekend when nine people tested positive for the virus in Motueka. The family had travelled to Auckland the weekend prior for a wedding and other events, visiting a Mission Bay restaurant and the Sky Tower.
The January Omicron Cluster, which currently spans Auckland, Palmerston North and Nelson-Tasman - with two cases now also under investigation in Tauranga - is projected to increase to possibly tens of thousands of cases, with experts warning the strain could infect half of the population in a matter of months.
Health officials are now calling on eligible New Zealanders to urgently get their booster shots - the third dose has been found to provide an extra layer of protection against the variant.
What you need to know
- Ten new cases of the Omicron variant have been reported on Tuesday - six in Auckland, one in Nelson-Tasman, one in Palmerston North and two in Tauranga, which are currently under investigation - bringing the January Omicron Cluster to 29 cases
- Twenty-five new cases were reported overall on Tuesday - 18 in Auckland, one in Kaitaia, two in Rotorua, one in Palmerston North, one in Nelson-Tasman and two in Tauranga
- All of New Zealand is currently under the red setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, which was reinstated at 11:59pm on Sunday
- Stricter mask requirements have been announced while the country is in red, including wearing an actual face mask rather than a bandanna, children wearing a mask on public transport, and workers who are mandated to be vaccinated must wear a medical mask.
- Nine people in the Nelson-Tasman region were confirmed as Omicron cases on Sunday after the family, who are based in Motueka, travelled to Auckland to attend a wedding and other events over Jan 15-16
- A second wedding in Auckland, held at a hall in Pukekohe, has also been linked to the outbreak
- An Air New Zealand flight attendant and Auckland rest home worker are among the 29 cases
- No index case has been identified at this stage - the source of Omicron's emergence in the community remains a mystery
- On Wednesday, the Government will share details of a new three-stage plan to manage the spread of the variant
- Hospitals and district health boards are preparing for a "worst-case scenario" of up to 50,000 new cases of Omicron each day, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Tuesday.
- Click here for the latest information on locations of interest.
These live updates have finished.
9:15pm - There is only one new Omicron case in the Nelson-Tasman region on Tuesday - a household contact of the Motueka family.
That brings the region's total count to 13 cases of the highly-transmissible variant, but despite the Omicron threat there was no rush on testing today.
The Motueka testing site was empty on Tuesday morning, a stark contrast to the long lines and overwhelming demand on Monday.
The few that did line up for a swab today were feeling nervous, one person saying COVID has "tipped my whole life upside down".
Tasman District Mayor Tim King said after so many tests yesterday he was surprised there was only one case reported in the region today.
"Slightly unexpected, the expectation's been we'll get these case numbers more rapidly," King said. "This will continue to develop."
8:40pm - National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government is seizing rapid tests from the private sector to try and "hide their incompetence" from not ordering enough of them sooner.
"I have been approached by a series of organisations today, all of whom have orders for rapid antigen tests about to be filled. They have been told that those orders cannot be filled because the rapid antigen tests are now going to the Government instead," he says.
"That the Government has now resorted to requisitioning rapid antigen tests from the private sector is a stunning indictment of the Government's incompetence over rapid antigen testing."
Bishop questions how many of the four million rapid tests currently in New Zealand actually belong to the Government, and how many of the 14 million tests that are on order are instead just orders taken from companies.
"The Government banned the importation of rapid antigen testing for most of 2021, only relenting in the final quarter and allowing selected companies to bring in a small number. Having banned their use the Government is now scrambling to get enough rapid tests for its own uses," Bishop says.
"The Government has no one to blame but itself.
"This is redolent of the behaviour of the Government with Rako Science and saliva testing. Rather than just negotiating in good faith with the saliva testing provider, the Government pushed a law through under urgency last year to allow them to seize its assets."
8pm - Over in Australia, New South Wales has recorded 18,512 new cases and 29 deaths in the past 24 hours.
There are 2943 people in hospital, 183 of whom are in ICU.
In the state of Victoria, there are 14,836 new cases and 29 deaths.
A total of 1057 people are in hospital, 119 of whom are in ICU and 45 are on ventilators.
And in Queensland, there are 9546 new cases and 11 deaths.
There are 928 people in hospital, 51 of whom are in ICU.
7:30pm - It's unclear how businesses will cover a compulsory 24-day leave period for employees who have to isolate because someone they live with has mate korona (COVID-19).
Anyone who lives with a Covid-19 case but does not have the disease themselves must remain in isolation for at least 10 days after the case is released from isolation.
That tallies up to a total 24 days, assuming the household contacts do not themselves catch the virus or that nobody else in their home catches it.
The new rules, introduced on Friday, are part of the government's strategy to slow the spread of Omicron in the community but how employers and employees will manage the lengthened isolation period is already raising concerns.
Employment lawyer Barbara Buckett, of BuckettLaw, said it's unclear how people who can't work from home can stretch their existing leave balances over the 24 days.
"It really is a compulsory leave situation which may or may not comply with the sick leave requirements and certainly 24 days is going to exhaust most people's sick leave," she said.
7pm - There are five DHBs yet to reach the 90 percent double vaccinated target. These are:
- Northland: 86 percent of eligible population fully vaccinated, 6122 people remaining to hit target
- Lakes: 90 percent fully vaccinated, 138 people remaining (the Ministry of Health rounds up percentages to the nearest whole number)
- Tairāwhiti: 89 percent fully vaccinated, 522 people remaining
- Whanganui: 89 percent fully vaccinated, 633 people remaining
- West Coast: 90 percent fully vaccinated, 54 people remaining.
Northland is still yet to hit 90 percent first doses. It has given 89 percent of its eligible residents first doses, with 936 people remaining to hit this goal.
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm for the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Click here to watch online or tune in on Three.
5:30pm - With Omicron circulating in the community, the number of people isolating either as infected cases or close contacts is expected to quickly increase.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved New Zealand to red on Sunday after nine cases of Omicron were discovered in the Nelson region.
The Government has implemented tougher close contact rules and has estimated 350,000 people at once could be self-isolating during this outbreak.
So if you end up in isolation at home what can you do and what are the rules?
But Ardern was beaten to the punch this year by ACT leader David Seymour, who believes he has the answer: 2022 is the "year of the hangover", due to the effects of lockdowns and borrowing billions.
"I note a glaring omission that the Prime Minister did not name the year 2022," he said at a recent press conference. "2019 was the so-called year of delivery, 2021 was the year of the vaccine - although I'd say mainly the second half. Let me tell you, 2022 will be the year of the hangover."
He pointed to the "$60 billion in government debt, 5 percent inflation which some pundits say will go to 6 percent in the year to the next quarter, kids that have missed almost half a year of school in Auckland, an estimated 37,000 operations not done by September" and "whole industries such as export education that have been missing out".
The latest newsletter from ACT doubles down: "This year will be the year of the hangover. New Zealand will feel the effects of our lock 'em down, lock 'em out, borrow, spend and print approach to COVID.
"Labour bought into the delusion that sealing ourselves off from the world for two years would cost us nothing. For the United States, it might be believable at a stretch. For a small trading nation of five million, it's a fantasy."
4:52pm - The press conference has finished. To briefly re-cap:
- Mask rules have been tightened. People now must wear a mask rather than just a face covering, such as a bandanna or T-shirt
- Essential workers will be able to use a negative rapid antigen tests to return to work if they're required to isolate because they're a close contact
- An announcement on New Zealand's phases to battle Omicron will be announced tomorrow.
4:48pm - On aged residential care, Dr Bloomfield says they're looking at asymptomatic testing for staff.
However, these people will probably have to spend the entire time in isolation rather than being allowed to use a rapid antigen test to go back to work.
4:46pm - Ardern says New Zealand acted "very quickly" on antiviral medication.
Dr Bloomfield says the two oral ones are what they are most interested in, but it is dependent on when the medication can be provided. Only the US has supply of one they are trickling out and supply is coming quite slowly, he says.
4:39pm - Dr Bloomfield says people who are at a higher risk of getting very ill if they catch COVID-19 should minimise their contact with other people during Omicron, but not necessarily "hunker down" as one epidemiologist suggested.
4:36pm - On when Kiwis will be able to buy rapid antigen tests at the supermarket or pharmacies, Ardern says they don't want people to have to pay for them and they should be accessible from health providers.
She says she wants rapid antigen tests to be accessed by the right people.
4:33pm - Ardern was asked if there'll be any booster dose campaigns. She says booster doses have already jumped up but "we have thought about days of action" to encourage it.
Dr Bloomfield says there will be "some activities" and follow-ups will help.
Experts are also looking at booster shots for 12-17-year-olds and also the eight week interval for 5-11-year-olds.
4:29pm - Ardern says the border has served New Zealand "really well".
She still anticipates to allow self-isolation for returnees and there are no changes to that yet. The self-isolation requirement will still be necessary, she says, to help prevent large outbreaks.
4:25pm - On isolation periods, Ardern says critical workers will be able to use the test to return to work. More details on this will be announced on Wednesday.
On if other workers who aren't essential could do this, Ardern says they still want to limit contact between people with Omicron and keep the numbers low.
4:22pm - On the booster rollout, Ardern says any change to the vaccine schedule is based on medical advice.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the reason the booster timeframe was dropped to four months is because they wanted vulnerable people who got their vaccine early on to get their third dose as soon as possible.
He adds it is under review, though.
4:19pm - On mask mandates, Ardern was asked what a "well-fitted mask" means.
She says that a scarf or a T-shirt isn't good enough, and instead New Zealanders need to use a mask that is fitted to the face.
4:17pm - Ardern says the more accurate PCR testing is more appropriate while New Zealand is in this current Omicron phase.
She adds that "we're not alone in the world" where we don't have confirmation of delivery for the tests.
She denies that PCR testing is being ramped up because we have a lack of rapid antigen testing - instead insisting PCR testing is more accurate.
4:15pm - There are 83 million rapid antigen tests on order. There are 4.6 million in the country and 14.6 million are confirmed to arrive in the next six weeks.
An additional two million are coming but it's "a very competitive market", Ardern says.
4:12pm - New Zealand's PCR testing capacity can be increased by nearly 20,000 tests per day to deal with a surge in cases as part of our wider COVID-19 testing strategy, Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall says.
"With Omicron cases now in the North and South islands, testing, tracing and quickly isolating any COVID-19 cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting whānau and communities," Dr Verral says.
"A rapid rise in case numbers will require us to shift from identifying all infected individuals to being more targeted to those most at risk and those needed to maintain critical infrastructure.
"To do this, testing remains a cornerstone of our response.
"Nasopharyngeal PCR tests will continue to be used as the primary diagnostic test in our initial phase of dealing with Omicron in the community, but this will be supplemented by wider use of rapid antigen testing."
Since a review in October last year, PCR testing capacity has increased from a maximum 39,000 tests per day to a baseline of 58,000 tests. Surge capacity is now 77,600 tests, which can be sustained for seven days. There has also been work done on doubling the number of types of rapid antigen tests approved for import, supply and use, and introducing saliva testing, Dr Verral says.
"From December 2021, businesses have been able to order approved rapid antigen tests direct from importers for use with their workforce. These tests are also used across our health system, including aged residential care," she says.
"Rapid development of testing capability and capacity, using various testing modes which respond and adapt to changes in the virus has been a core aspect of our testing strategy. We have combined this with scientific, public health, human behaviour and operational considerations to establish robust testing regimes for different stages of the pandemic."
Further detail on how New Zealand will manage Omicron through the various phases of community spread will be announced on Wednesday.
4:11pm - On critical workforces, rapid antigen testing will be used to keep supply chains open in a 'test to return to work approach', Ardern says.
Proof of a negative rapid antigen test will allow an essential worker to return to work during the mandated isolation period.
4:08pm - Cabinet has enhanced mask settings at red. Masks must be worn at food and drink businesses, close proximity businesses, events, and gatherings. There is an exception for drinking and exercising.
This doesn't apply to swimming pools or non-public facing businesses.
Face coverings need to be an actual mask now, meaning no more scarves or bandannas.
All workers who are mandated to be vaccinated must wear a medical mask such as medical blue masks.
Children will now also have to wear masks on public transport.
These changes will come into force in nine days.
4:05pm - Over 73 percent of eligible people over 65 have had their booster, Ardern says.
Also, every DHB is on track to deliver their booster rollout to elderly homes.
4:03pm - Ardern has arrived.
She is going over the number of Omicron cases found in New Zealand so far (29). She says investigations into the source are continuing, but it is yet to be linked to a border case.
Nearly 60 percent of eligible Kiwis have had their booster so far.
3:50pm - We are about 10 minutes away from the Prime Minister's post-Cabinet press conference.
Jacinda Ardern is expected to provide an update on the Omicron outbreak.
You'll be able to watch that here, live on Three, or in the video player above. Refresh the page if you can't see the livestream.
This page will also be updated live.
3:35pm - Speaker Trevor Mallard has hit back at comments a commentator in the UK made about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's red traffic light announcement.
Dan Wootton, who says he is proud to hold both New Zealand and UK citizenship, gave a harsh assessment of the move in a column for the Daily Mail, calling it "cruel" and saying Ardern is "gripped with the terror that her decision to pursue a Zero COVID policy long-term is unravelling".
"While the rest of the world is finally waking up to the need to live with COVID long-term, New Zealand remains trapped in March 2020, with terror and paranoia enveloping a country that was once famous for producing hard men like Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, fearless rugby giant Jonah Lomu and bungee jump inventor AJ Hackett," he wrote.
"Rather than preparing for the inevitable over the past two years, socialist Ardern is hamstrung by a creaking health system with less than 200 intensive care beds to service five million citizens."
Mallard took to Twitter to compare COVID-19 death rates between New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
"Known family for 45 years. Admired your father's work," Mallard says.
"I know you want clicks but I prefer an approach that values lives especially the old, the young and the vulnerable.
"We have lost less than 10 per million while UK has lost 350+ per million. Maybe that doesn't matter to you."
3:10pm - There are three new locations of interest. They are:
- The Warehouse Kaitaia, January 21 from 12pm to 1pm
- Noel Leeming Kaitaia, January 21 from 1pm to 2pm
- PAK'nSAVE Kaitaia, January 21 from 2pm to 3:30pm.
2:50pm - CCTV footage has captured the moment an Auckland bus driver was viciously assaulted while on the job.
The video, which was taken on December 17 on Queen Street, shows a passenger getting on the bus and starting to make their way towards the back before turning around.
The passenger then walks back towards the driver while swearing several times. He then punches the driver directly in the face before turning around and walking away.
The dazed driver gets up and follows the passenger, before kicking him in the back in retaliation. The passenger stumbles, grabs onto a handrail and manages to keep his footing.
Another passenger can be heard telling the shocked onlookers to call the police.
While the culprit is yet to be found, the bus driver has been given a formal warning by NZ Bus, according to the NZ Herald.
But Tramways Union boss Gary Froggatt told the outlet the company's reaction was unfair and "heavy-handed".
"I don't think he needs a warning. He just needs some retraining," Froggatt told the Herald. "It's not acceptable for passengers to do that and it's not acceptable for bus drivers to get involved in altercations with passengers.
"There should be more training and making sure drivers understand what they can and can't do in situations like this."
2:40pm - The Government must move as fast as possible to approve and order supply of promising new COVID-19 treatments, says National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop, who claimed that ministers are on the "go-slow" to introduce a range of new medicines.
"Lagevrio (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid have both been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia and regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom and the United States, but we are on the go-slow here in New Zealand," Bishop said on Tuesday.
"With Omicron now in our community and with cases likely to increase quickly, we need access to these next generation treatments fast."
The oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid, manufactured by Pfizer, is used to treat mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease in adults and pediatric patients aged 12 and over who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 - including hospitalisation or death.
Initial studies found the medicine reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death by 89 percent compared to placebo in non-hospitalised, high-risk adults with COVID-19.
New Zealand has purchased 60,000 courses of the pill, but it has yet to be approved for use - and supply won't arrive until April.
"We will be well into the Omicron outbreak by April and we need the option of these treatments as soon as possible," Bishop said.
"The Government needs to make sure we have supply of these treatments as soon as possible and that approval is expedited."
2:25pm - A petition demanding the Government provide support payments for those working in the live entertainment industry amid Aotearoa's Omicron outbreak has reached over 5000 signatures.
The Change.org petition, started by the 'NZ Music Industry', is warning the red setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework could see "the decimation of many livelihoods".
New Zealand's nationwide return to red means no events with more than 100 people in a defined space can take place, prompting a wave of cancellations.
The petition said the move "has left thousands of Kiwis who work in the live events and adjacent industries completely without work for the foreseeable future".
It noted that during the previous alert level framework, Kiwis had access to wage subsidies and resurgence payments; but this time, no such support has been made available "despite some industries being totally unable to operate".
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced there would be financial support provided for those who aren't able to work because they have contracted COVID-19 or need to isolate due to being a contact or waiting for test results. The Leave Support Scheme, available to employers and self-employed people to help pay their workers, did not appear to make provisions for those unaffected by the virus who were still out of work.
"After an already brutal 2021 for the music and live events industry especially, being left without work again in 2022 could see the decimation of many livelihoods," the petition continued.
"By signing this petition you support the case of assistance for the workers and businesses who have worked so hard to keep these industries afloat. Thank you."
At the time of writing, the petition had earned over 5800 signatures, with more names appearing by the minute. Those who signed cited a range of reasons, including being musicians or entertainers left unemployed, having family or friends in the live events industry and being concerned about how restrictions might impact Aotearoa's cultural landscape.
2:10pm - The unvaccinated Thames-Coromandel Mayor chaired a council meeting remotely on Tuesday morning as she is currently prohibited from entering the premises.
In December, the Thames-Coromandel District Council confirmed it would require all employers - and councillors - to be fully vaccinated by January 17 if they were to enter council premises.
But Mayor Sandra Goudie is currently unvaccinated - and as a result, is not permitted in the building.
Last year, Goudie made headlines when she publicly refused to get the Pfizer vaccine, saying she will instead wait for Novavax - which is not yet available in New Zealand.
She has also previously branded the Government's vaccine mandates as "abhorrent".
Fellow councillor Gary Gotlieb laid a Code of Conduct complaint, accusing the Mayor of speaking at an anti-vaccine public meeting last year.
Goudie also spoke to anti-vaccine group Reignite Democracy Australia in a 12-minute video published online last November.
2pm - An Auckland restaurant has been issued two infringement notices and fined $24,000 for allegedly breaching COVID-19 protocols.
Damned Fine Food Limited - the business operating Lone Star New Lynn - was served two infringement notices on January 21 for violations of the vaccine mandate.
"One for allowing unvaccinated staff to carry out work when required to be vaccinated and the other for not having effective systems and processes to check CVC compliance. Each has an associated penalty of $12,000," WorkSafe told Newshub.
"WorkSafe wishes to note the actions of the New Lynn restaurant do not reflect the main company Lone Star, which has expressed a strong commitment to following the requirements of the COVID-19 Protection Framework."
Lone Star New Lynn made headlines in December when they advertised roles at the restaurant for people who weren't vaccinated against COVID-19.
1:50pm - Staff at the medical centre in Motueka that saw patients linked to the Omicron outbreak are not required to isolate.
Patients who visited Greenwood Health on Friday between 11:40am to 1:45pm are considered close contacts and advised to isolate and get tested immediately, with a further test on day five.
Greenwood Health clinical manager Naomi Rosamond told Morning Report the staff members would undertake regular testing.
"There was a risk stratification done with the infectious disease specialist in our region as well as public health just to overview what precautions we as a practice take."
Rosamond said the clinic had prepared for this situation.
"We're not just really good with our PPE work, we've also instituted things like HEPA filters into all of the clinical rooms and ensured that we've had as much cross ventilation as possible."
Staff also make sure as much as possible that people who enter the clinic are wearing the correct face masks.
"Based on that risk assessment it's deemed that the staff, although they don't actually need to stand down for this time period, they do need to have testing on a regular basis so that if anything were to occur in them that they don't actually then potentially spread it to the rest of the staff."
Around 20 patients have been required to isolate, she said, however a few others would have entered the clinic during that time who aren't in the system.
"We still are seeing our patients as normal, we are trying to as much as possible, if it's relevant and appropriate, to get virtual consultations up and running for patients, both as a measure to protect them but also ourselves."
1:40pm - Life Pharmacy in Motueka has been identified as a new location of interest, however it is not currently linked to a confirmed or suspected case of the Omicron variant.
Life Pharmacy, 179 High Street, Motueka 7120, Thursday, Jan 20, 1:40pm - 2:10pm: Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after you were exposed. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result.
Several high-risk 'close contact' exposure events - such as the private event at Pukekohe Indian Community Centre and several bus routes - have been updated as of 12pm, but were all initially reported on Sunday or Monday.
1:25pm - Let's recap the latest updates on the Omicron outbreak:
- Twenty-five new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the community as of Tuesday, 10 of which are carrying the Omicron
- The 10 new cases bring the January Omicron Cluster to 29 - all are in isolation
- Of the 10 new cases, six are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, one is in Nelson-Tasman and two are in Tauranga - these are under investigation
- The case in Nelson-Tasman is a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating when they tested positive
- The case in Palmerston North is a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating when they tested positive
- The two cases in Tauranga are in the same household and are isolating at home. Investigations are ongoing but at this stage, there are a limited number of exposure events associated with these cases. Health officials are investigating recent travel to Auckland as the source of their infection and whole genome sequencing is underway
- The six new cases in Auckland have all been linked, directly or indirectly, to a family event and other associated events in Auckland on the weekend of January 15 and 16 - the number of cases and contacts are expected to grow
- The weekend of January 15 and 16 was when the Motueka family, who were confirmed as Omicron cases on Sunday, were in Auckland for a wedding, funeral and other social events - nine family members tested positive after returning to Nelson-Tasman
- At this stage, it's believed the Motueka family became infected while in Auckland, not in the Nelson-Tasman region
- Earlier we reported that a second private event, also understood to be a wedding, has been linked to the Omicron outbreak - the Ministry of Health has now confirmed a case from the January Omicron Cluster attended this second event in Auckland during their infectious period
- The exposure occurred on the evening of Sunday, January 16 at the Pukekohe Indian Hall in Auckland. More information can be found via the ministry's locations of interest
- Auckland Regional Public Health Service believe a large number of people attended this event - anyone at this location at the relevant times is asked to get tested immediately and self-isolate until a negative result has been returned
- Please also record your visit online on the locations of interest website or by contacting Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453. Further information, isolation and testing requirements will be provided by contact tracers
- Further locations of interest have been identified across Auckland and the Nelson-Tasman region and will be published as they are confirmed. Everyone in these regions, or has visited these areas recently, is encouraged to check the locations of interest and follow the public health advice.
1:07pm - Monday also marked a record day for booster shots and paediatric doses, the Ministry of Health said.
On Monday, 56,788 boosters were administered, the highest number in one day to date - bringing the total to 1,053,055.
Similarly, Monday also marked a record day for paediatric vaccines, with 14,400 administered. Almost 95,000 five-to-11-year-olds have now received a first dose.
The number of first and second doses in the 12 and over population also saw notable increases on previous days.
It is encouraging people continue to come forward to get their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We encourage anyone who is unsure about getting vaccinated to kōrero with people they trust, including their usual healthcare provider. Anyone with questions about getting vaccinated can also visit the United Against COVID-19 website.
Boosters lower your chances of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant, of getting very sick and being hospitalised, and help to slow the spread of the virus. If you're 18 or older and it's been 4 months since your second vaccine dose, get your booster as soon as you can. Book your booster or find a walk-in vaccination centre at BookMyVaccine.nz
1:06pm - And here are today's regional updates from the Ministry of Health:
We are reporting new community cases in Northland, Auckland, Lakes, Bay of Plenty, MidCentral and Nelson-Marlborough.
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. We are also asking people to regularly check the locations of interest as these are regularly updated and to follow the advice provided.
Testing and vaccination centre locations nationwide can be found on the Healthpoint website.
Please also continue to check for any updated Locations of Interest and appropriate health advice, updated regularly on the Ministry's website.
There is one case to report in Kaitaia, Northland. The case is linked to a previously reported case.
There are 18 cases to report in Auckland today. Health and welfare providers are now supporting 665 people in the region to isolate at home, including 164 cases.
There are two cases in Rotorua to report. The cases are known contacts of previously reported cases.
Bay of Plenty
There are two cases to report in Tauranga.
Health officials are investigating recent travel to Auckland as the source of their infection, and whole genome sequencing is underway to determine the variant.
There is one case to report in the MidCentral region who is a household contact of previously reported Omicron case. They were already isolating when they tested positive.
As outlined in the Omicron update, the Nelson-Tasman case reported today is a household contact of a case that is part of the January Omicron Cluster.
They were already isolating when they tested positive.
1:05pm - Here is the latest data from the Ministry of Health on the outbreak and vaccination roll-out:
COVID-19 vaccine update
Vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people): first doses 3,997,561 (95 pct); 3,913,001 second doses (93 pct); 37,159 third primary doses; 1,053,055 booster doses
Vaccines administered yesterday: 1,224 first doses; 1,861 second doses; 469 third primary doses, 14,400 paediatric doses; 56,788 booster doses.
Māori (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 509,673 first doses (89 pct); 481,252 second doses (84 pct).
Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 275,866 first doses (96 pct); 267,333 second doses (93 pct).
Paediatric vaccines administer to date (percentage of 5-11-year olds): 94,976 first doses (20 pct)
Vaccination rates by DHB with active cases (percentage of eligible people)
Northland DHB: First doses (89 pct); second doses (86 pct)
Auckland Metro DHBs: First doses (97 pct); second doses (95 pct)
Waikato DHB: First doses (95 pct); second doses (92 pct)
Bay of Plenty DHB: First doses (94 pct); second doses (92 pct)
Lakes DHB: First doses (93 pct); second doses (90 pct)
Hawke's Bay: First doses (96 pct); second doses (93 pct)
MidCentral DHB: First doses (96 pct); second doses (94 pct)
Wairarapa DHB: First doses (96 pct); second doses (94 pct)
Capital and Coast DHB: First doses (98 pct); second doses (97 pct)
Hutt Valley DHB: First doses (96 pct); second doses (95 pct)
Nelson Marlborough DHB: First doses (96 pct); second doses (94 pct)
Canterbury DHB: First doses (99 pct); second doses (97 pct)
Cases in hospital: 10; North Shore: 5; Auckland: 2; Middlemore: 1, Rotorua: 2,
Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region wards only): Unvaccinated or not eligible (1 cases / 14 pct); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (0 case / 0 pct); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (5 cases / 71 pct); unknown (1 case / 14 pct).
Average age of current hospitalisations: 62
Cases in ICU or HDU: 0
Seven day rolling average of community cases: 29
Seven day rolling average of border cases: 38
Number of new community cases: 25
Number of new cases identified at the border: 37
Location of new community cases: Northland (1), Auckland (18), Bay of Plenty (2), Lakes (2), MidCentral (1), Nelson Marlborough (1)
Number of community cases (total): 11,541 (in current community outbreaks)
Cases epidemiologically linked (total): 8,793
Number of active cases (total): 470 (cases identified in the past 21 days and not yet classified as recovered)
Confirmed cases (total): 15,312
Number of active contacts being managed (total): 5,458
Percentage who has received an outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements): 80 pct
Percentage who has returned at least one result: 78 pct
Number of tests total (last 24 hours): 12,687
Tests rolling average (last 7 days): 13,814
Auckland tests total (last 24 hours): 5,713
No unexpected results.
NZ COVID Tracer
Poster scans in the 24 hours to midday yesterday: 2,277,105
Manual diary entries in the 24 hours to midday: 56,950
My Vaccine Pass
My vaccine pass downloads total: 4,909,476
My vaccine pass downloads (last 24 hours): 15,941.
1:03pm - The Ministry of Health's update has been released.
There are 25 new cases to report in the community today, 10 of which are the Omicron variant - bringing the January Omicron Cluster to 29.
Of the 10 cases, six are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, one is in Nelson-Tasman and two are in Tauranga.
Here's the full update on the Omicron outbreak from the Ministry of Health:
Public health officials are continuing to manage Omicron cases in the community through rapidly isolating cases and contacts, contact tracing, and testing in order to slow the spread.
To date, there are 29 community cases of COVID-19 associated with the January Omicron Cluster, all are in isolation. Amongst these cases, today we are reporting an additional 10 community cases. These include:
- One case in Nelson Tasman that is a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating when they tested positive.
- One case in Palmerston North that is a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating when they tested positive.
- Two cases in Tauranga. Both cases are in the same household and are isolating at home. Case investigations are ongoing but, at this stage, there are a limited number of exposure events associated with these cases.
Six cases in Auckland
All these cases have been linked, directly or indirectly, to a family event and other associated events in Auckland on the weekend of January 15 and 16.
The number of cases and contacts are expected to grow given the highly transmissible nature of Omicron and as we learn more from case interviews.
In addition, the Ministry wants to thank the Nelson-Tasman family associated with this cluster for coming forward and getting tested when they became symptomatic. Their cooperation has been instrumental in identifying locations of interests, additional contacts, and cases, all of which helps slow the spread of Omicron in our communities. At this stage, it is believed the family became infected while in Auckland, not in the Nelson-Tasman region.
As part of our collective preparations for Omicron, please check your details are up to date with your regular healthcare provider and in the COVID-19 Tracer app.
We also continue to urge anyone with symptoms, or anyone who has been to a location of interest at the times notified, to isolate immediately and get tested promptly.
Second family event associated with Omicron cases
A case from the January Omicron cluster also attended a second private event in Auckland during their infectious period.
The exposure occurred on the evening of (Sunday) January 16 at the Pukekohe Indian Hall in Auckland. More detail can be found on Ministry of Health Locations of Interest.
Auckland Regional Public Health Service believe a large number of people attended this event. Anyone at this location at the relevant times is asked to get tested immediately, and self-isolate until a negative result has been returned.
Please also record your visit online on the Locations of Interest website, or by contacting Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453. Further information, isolation and testing requirements will be provided by contact tracers.
Further locations of interest have been identified across Auckland and the Nelson Tasman region and will be published on the Ministry's website as they are confirmed. We are encouraging everyone in these regions to check the locations of interest and follow the public health advice.
There will be people from outside of these regions who may have visited those locations at the same time period, so it is important for anyone who has been in these locations over the past week to check the website and see if they are included in that time the case was there.
It is also a timely reminder to all potential close contacts of a case to either call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or record their visit online to a location of interest and follow advice from a health professional, as this advice is specific to an individual and the exposure event.
A reminder that there is a Section 70 notice in place which puts a legal requirement on all people who were at locations of interest at the relevant times to follow the instructions regarding isolation and testing. Failure to comply can result in a fine of up to $4000 or imprisonment for up to six months.
12:35pm - There will be no press conference at 1pm today - instead, there will be a post-Cabinet briefing at 4pm. You will be able to watch that live on Three or via our dedicated livestream on Newshub.co.nz.
The Ministry of Health will release a statement at around 1pm with the latest updates on the outbreak - we will publish it as soon as we receive it.
12:20pm - At least two Omicron-positive passengers travelled by bus in Auckland last Monday morning, with both journeys now labelled as high-risk exposure events.
The two bus routes, initially identified on Sunday, have been updated as of 12pm, as well as an earlier bus journey on the North Shore.
All three buses had at least one confirmed case of the Omicron variant on-board.
Bus 195 New Lynn to Vulcan Lane City Centre [Stop 7049] - Mon, Jan 17, 8:45am - 9:15am: This exposure is linked to an Omicron case. Self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. 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.
Bus 133 Henderson [Stop 5112] to City Centre - Mon, Jan 17, 8:15am - 8:45am: This exposure is linked to an Omicron case. Self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. 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.
Bus 917 Glenfield Mall [Stop 3881] to Albany Mall [Stop 4260] - Wed, Jan 19, 10:05am - 10:35am: This exposure is linked to an Omicron case. Self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. 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.
A confirmed Omicron case also took the same 917 bus at the same time (10:05am to 10:35am) the next day, Thursday, January 20. The same public health advice applies.
12pm - With the Omicron variant now circulating in the community, a group of paediatricians and public health physicians say schools should be kept open, as safely as possible.
In an open paper led by the University of Auckland's Dr Jin Russell, doctors point to negative health affects for children in lockdown and the benefits of going to school.
Children do not typically develop severe illness when they contract COVID-19 and schools are not significant contributors to transmission compared to other high-risk contexts, the doctors say.
Weighed against that are the negative impacts of school closures - widening educational inequities, poorer mental health, behavioural difficulties, social isolation, family stress, family violence and food insecurity. Additionally, Māori and Pacific children and children from low socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately impacted by the closures.
"Indirect harms from school closures may have life-long impacts through toxic stress on the developing brain and educational inequities," the paper says.
The experts say closing schools in order to reduce overall community transmission should not occur if other higher-risk contexts in society remain open.
"Despite efforts, a massive COVID-19 outbreak, such as with the Omicron variant, may lead to unavoidable school closures, due to significant school-based outbreaks, critical numbers of staff falling ill, or local lockdowns.
"Closing schools should be a last resort, and enacted only as part of a localised lockdown.
"In the event of unavoidable school closures, we advocate for preserving access to school for regular outdoor learning sessions and activities (e.g. twice weekly physical education sessions, small group learning sessions, games). Opportunities for interacting with friends and teachers will maintain relationships and connection to school and come with so many benefits for children at very low risk."
11:45am - Three weeks at home - that's what's expected of household contacts of COVID-19 cases as the Government prepares for an Omicron outbreak.
It's part of 'Phase 1', the first of three stages in the Government's response to Omicron, the COVID-19 variant that has spread rapidly across the globe and is now active in the New Zealand community.
"At this stage, we're doing what we've successfully done with Delta, taking that 'stamp-it-out' approach, and this will be familiar to you," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at her last-minute press conference on Sunday.
To try and slow down the spread, gatherings are restricted to 100 people and guests at hospitality venues must be seated and separated. Close contacts of confirmed cases cannot leave their home for up to three weeks, even if they do not return a single positive result.
"At this stage, you will need to isolate for 14 days if you are a case, and 10 days if you are contact," Ardern said.
But it's not just 10 days for close contacts.
The Ministry of Health's rules state: "The isolation period for COVID-19 cases in the community is at least 14 days, including 72 hours symptom-free. Your household members will need to remain in isolation for at least 10 days after you have been released as a case."
The effect is that if someone tests positive, members of their household may have to be isolated for 24 days. The Government has estimated 350,000 people at once could be self-isolating during this outbreak.
Otago University Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist, explains.
"If you're in a household situation where someone is isolating, they're considered to be infectious right up till the end. If you're in that same house as them and you're a contact, then your last day of contact starts on their day 14 when they're considered to no longer be infectious and your 10 days starts then."
11:35am - An offshoot of the Omicron variant, which could be more infectious and harder to track, is spreading rapidly overseas.
The new strain, known as BA.2, is a sister lineage to the current variant (BA.1). Both lineages are defined as Omicron.
It's still unclear how much danger the new strain poses, but scientists are hard at work determining its severity and infectiousness.
The UK Health Security Agency recently labelled BA.2 as a variant under investigation, one level below a variant of concern.
11:25am - Despite unequivocal evidence the COVID-19 vaccine significantly reduces the chances of dying from or being hospitalised with the virus, anti-vaxxers are still clinging to an age-old argument: "If the vaccine is so effective, then why are more vaccinated people currently in hospital in New Zealand with COVID?"
Dr Leighton Watson, an Auckland-based geophysicist and mathematician with the University of Oregon, said while the question may seem confronting at face value, it's actually just a mathematical error.
11:15am - As the Omicron outbreak ramps up, widespread infections across the country are set to become a reality for the first time since the pandemic began, causing anxiety for many New Zealanders.
Dr Lynn McBain explains what to expect if you are infected, and how to manage your recovery.
11:05am - Here are the latest locations of interest as of 11am.
Two high-risk exposure events first identified on Sunday - two bus journeys on Auckland's North Shore - have now been updated. A person with the Omicron variant rode the bus, the 917, between 10:05am and 10:35am on both Wednesday, January 19 and Thursday, January 20.
- Bus 917 Glenfield Mall [Stop 3881] to Albany Mall [Stop 4260] - Wed, Jan 19, 10:05am - 10:35am: This exposure is linked to an Omicron case. Self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. 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.
- Bus 917 Glenfield Mall [Stop 3881] to Albany Mall [Stop 4260] - Thurs, Jan 20, 10:05am - 10:35am: This exposure is linked to an Omicron case. Self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. 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.
Two locations of interest in Auckland, previously identified on Monday, have now recategorised as linked to a suspected Omicron case:
- Chartwell Bakery, Manukau - Thurs, Jan 20, 9:55am - 10am: RECATEGORISED: This exposure is linked to a suspected Omicron case. Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after you were exposed. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result.
- Thirsty Liquor, Papakura - Thurs, Jan 20, 6pm - 6:15pm: RECATEGORISED: This exposure is linked to a suspected Omicron case. Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after you were exposed. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result.
Two locations of interest have also been identified in Hamilton:
- PAK'nSAVE Clarence Street, Hamilton Lake - Thurs, Jan 20, 1:15pm - 2:15pm: Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after you were exposed. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result.
- Countdown Dinsdale, Hamilton - Fri, Jan 21, 12:45pm - 1:45pm: Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after you were exposed. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result.
10:50am - No staff members or residents at a retirement village in south Auckland have tested positive for COVID-19 so far after a worker contracted the Omicron variant.
Summerset by the Park retirement village in Flat Bush has been closed to visitors after one of its staff, who is associated with the Omicron-positive family in Motueka, tested positive for COVID-19.
The staffer worked at the facility while infectious on January 18, 19, 20 and 21.
According to the New Zealand Herald, Summerset's management confirmed via an email to its residents and staff on Monday that all tests have returned negative results so far.
A few results are still pending, the email said.
As reported by the Herald, the staffer - understood to be a kitchen worker - attended the same wedding in New Lynn as the Omicron-positive family in Nelson-Tasman. The family had travelled up to Auckland that weekend for a wedding, funeral and other events and tested positive after returning to Motueka.
All staff and residents were tested on Sunday and residents have been confined to their rooms and apartments as a precaution - visitors have also been temporarily banned.
10:35am - A new drive-through vaccination centre has opened in the west Auckland suburb of Westgate today to accommodate an increased demand for booster shots.
The new centre, located at the carpark on the corner of Gunton Dr and Tawhia Dr, will be open from 11am to 3:30pm on Tuesday and between 8:30am to 3:30pm, seven days a week, from Wednesday.
The Westgate Vaccination Centre - run by The Fono on Westgate Dr - temporarily closed on Monday, with staff to be deployed to the new site with much larger capacity.
Close to 11,000 booster shots had been delivered by 12:30pm across Auckland on Monday, reflecting an increased demand for the jab following the emergence of Omicron in the community.
Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) Clinical Director Anthony Jordan says it's fantastic there is now another drive-through option for whānau to get safely vaccinated in their bubbles in Tāmaki Makaurau.
"This site, which is expected to be open for at least the next six weeks, has capacity to vaccinate around 2500 people a day," he said on Monday.
"With Omicron in the community, now is the time for anyone aged 18 and over who had their second dose at least four months ago to walk in or drive up to our vaccination centres to get their booster dose.
"A booster helps to maintain high levels of protection against getting very sick and ending up in hospital, and also reduces the chance of you getting COVID-19 and passing it on to others."
People can also drive to other drive-through vaccination centres, including the Airport Park and Ride, Eventfinda Stadium and Papakura Marae. Please visit www.vaccinateforauckland.nz for operating hours and locations.
"We have plenty of capacity and vaccine supply across the city to accommodate boosters as well as our tamariki aged five to 11 in the lead-up to school starting next month."
Dr Jordan says some parents and caregivers may prefer to take their children to their local GP or pharmacy.
"Please call ahead to check if your GP or pharmacy is offering paediatric vaccinations – there are currently over 230 GPs and dozens of pharmacies than can immunise tamariki across the city."
People can walk in at all community vaccination centres, and also book in with GPs and pharmacies. Individual bookings will be available at BookMyVaccine.nz, and bookings for two or more members of the whānau can be made by calling 0800 28 29 26.
10:20am - A second wedding in Auckland has been linked to the Omicron outbreak after a confirmed case of the variant attended the private gathering in Pukekohe.
The private event - understood to be a wedding - was held at Pukekohe Indian Hall, which was visited by an Omicron case between 6:45pm and 10:45pm on Sunday, January 16.
Anyone who attended the event or was at the hall at the time is asked to self-isolate and get tested immediately. Further public health advice can be found here. It is considered to be a 'close contact', or high-risk exposure event.
It is the second nuptials to be associated with the Omicron cluster after a family from Motueka attended a wedding at Totara Event Centre in New Lynn on January 15. They later tested positive for the variant after returning to the Nelson-Tasman area.
Cabinet will convene on Tuesday, the first time since the Government decided to shift the country back into the red setting of the 'traffic light' system on Sunday.
10am - A group of Kiwi scientists have developed a potential solution to the more than 25,000 tonnes of COVID-related plastic waste that has polluted the oceans in the past two years of the pandemic.
The motivation behind the project came in March of 2020 after the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), endangering the lives of frontline healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.
A team led by Dr Yvonne Anderson, a senior lecturer at Auckland University's department of paediatrics, began researching a method for disinfecting PPE for potential reuse.
The team tested UV light and dry heat to disinfect clinical PPE.
"What we found was that whilst UV is effective at inactivating the virus on flat surfaces, it wasn't successful on the irregularities of PPE. So if you think of the masks, you've got straps and the nose bridge and all of those, that's where the UV might not get to.
"But what we did find is that with dry heat, complete virus inactivation was achieved at 65 degrees for 30 minutes or 70 degrees for 15 minutes."
The most recent stage of the research project was to build and test a prototype mobile disinfection unit in a shipping container at the Port of Taranaki.
Anderson explained that not all PPE could be disinfected.
"We have a collection process and a sorting process, so any PPE that's visibly contaminated we wouldn't put through the unit, and that's incredibly important in terms of healthcare worker safety.
"After we've sorted it in a pressure room, we then place it into the oven, which is built into the shipping container and disinfect it under our set temperatures and times and then move it through to the sorting process. And again, any PPE that's damaged along the way would get diverted to waste."
9:50am - As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, anxiety is rising in Australia. Shoppers fearful of quarantine measures have been stocking up on supplies to last out a week or two of isolation.
Recent days have seen reports of shortages of hand sanitiser and warnings that batteries and other electronic items could be next. However, the surge in demand for one particular commodity has seen supermarket shelves stripped bare: toilet paper.
It’s not just Australians. Shops in Japan, the US and New Zealand have also run low on the precious sanitary rolls. In Hong Kong, ambitious thieves held up a supermarket to steal a delivery.
But why toilet paper? The question has been in the air for at least the past month, but it’s now become hard to avoid. We asked four experts for their thoughts.
9:35am - As Kiwi kids are preparing to return to the classroom, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced that 5000 air cleaners have been ordered for schools nationwide.
"As we know, along with vaccination, testing, good hygiene and physical distancing, good ventilation is important in minimising the risk of airborne transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19," Hipkins said in a statement on Tuesday.
"I've heard that schools have done a good job keeping fresh air moving through their classrooms, but we know opening doors and windows to get fresh air flow won't always be practical."
The first 500 air cleaners are expected to arrive in March, with the remaining 4500 to be delivered by June. The cleaners will be used in targeted areas within some schools over the coming months.
"To help schools identify classrooms and other spaces which get good levels of fresh air flow and those that don't, schools will receive a ventilation self-assessment toolkit with a portable CO2 monitor they can use to help identify areas of concern and the right approaches to improve ventilation," Hipkins said.
"These 2500 portable CO2 monitors are in addition to more than 8000 Internal Environment Monitors which are already in, or will soon be deployed, in schools early this year.
"I ask any school with concerns about ventilation to reach out to the Ministry of Education for support."
Early observations of a joint study between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the Ministry of Education have found that opening windows and doors is the best way to boost the flow of fresh air in the classroom.
It says that good ventilation replaces the inside air with clean air from outside, preventing the build-up of potential contamination. The level of CO2 in a space is a good indicator of the air's freshness.
"This aligns with the advice and views of international experts - that is that there is no substitute for fresh air flow," Hipkins said.
"During the study there were days when opening doors and windows was less effective - for example when there was no outdoor breeze, or when it rained and schools were not able to open windows and doors as often. We know there will be cases where schools need to supplement existing natural ventilation.
"It's important we keep our tamariki as safe as possible, so in addition to the investment in portable air cleaners, the Ministry is also exploring simple systems to assist air quality and natural ventilation in schools."
9:15am - The latest locations of interest are in, including a cinema on Auckland's North Shore which has been categorised as a 'close contact' or high-risk exposure event.
Anyone who visited the The Vic Devonport on Thursday, January 20 between 7:50pm and 10:10pm is asked to self-isolate and get tested immediately. A further test should be taken five days after the date of exposure. Further isolation and testing requirements will be provided by Public Health.
Meanwhile, another two potential exposure events have been identified at Countdown supermarket in Motueka.
Anyone who was there between 8:42pm and 9pm on Friday, January 21 and between 2:06pm and 3pm on Thursday, January 20 is asked to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after the date of exposure. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until a negative test result is returned.
9:05am - Another one bites the dust - Auckland's popular Lantern Festival has now been cancelled in the face of the Omicron outbreak.
The event, which had been scheduled for February 10 to 13 at Auckland Showgrounds, has been cancelled due to the gathering restrictions at the red setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework. A maximum of 100 fully vaccinated people are permitted to gather for an event under the setting, which New Zealand transitioned to at 11:59pm on Sunday.
"The event can only be delivered under the Framework's orange or green settings," a spokesperson for Auckland Unlimited said on Tuesday.
"With the uncertainty of how long the country will remain at red, the decision has been made to cancel the event."
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff acknowledged the disappointment that may have been caused by the cancellation.
"The Auckland Lantern Festival is New Zealand's largest cultural celebration, and a key component of the Auckland event calendar, especially for the Auckland-Chinese community," he said.
"After the cancellation due to COVID of the 2020 and 2021 festivals and other major Chinese New Year events scheduled for early next month, this year's event was highly anticipated, and we are disappointed to have to cancel it again.
"However, the safety of our communities has to come first, and given that the Omicron variant is now circulating in Auckland, cancelling the Lantern Festival at this time is the right and responsible decision."
Mayor Goff encourages Aucklanders to visit the Auckland Lantern Festival 2022 digital programme at www.aucklandnz.com/lantern. From February 1 this site will feature content specially created for celebrating the 2022 Chinese New Year and the Year of the Tiger.
8:50am - The Waitangi Estate and Waitangi Treaty Grounds will be closed to the public on Waitangi Day due to the looming threat of the Omicron variant, the Waitangi National Trust announced on Tuesday.
It follows an earlier decision by the Trust to cancel all in-person events at Waitangi due to the gathering restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 Protection Framework (CPF), which make it impossible to safely proceed with the usual events of Waitangi commemorations - which attract 30,000 to 40,000 people annually.
The Trust received advice from health experts, the police and legal advisors in reaching its decision to close the estate on Waitangi Day, it said in a statement.
"As owner of the Waitangi Estate, the Trust has a legal obligation to comply with the CPF order and ensure that no unlawful gatherings take place on its lands. Without the ability to check vaccination passes for the large numbers of people expected on Waitangi Day, the Trust had no choice other than to take the action it has. Even if the Trust was able to check vaccination certificates, the maximum number of people who can gather under the red setting of the CPF is only 100, so the opening of the estate and grounds is untenable."
Waitangi National Trust Chairman Pita Tipene said the decision was not taken lightly.
"The Trustees fully appreciate that many people want to gather at Waitangi on Waitangi Day, our national day. However, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and with the Omicron variant now in the community and expected to spread quickly, we cannot proceed as if everything was normal. That would be totally irresponsible, not to mention unlawful, and Trustees are not prepared to risk the health and safety of the public by breaching the CPF order."
Waitangi National Trust will be working with radio, TV and online broadcasters to deliver a virtual Waitangi Day experience on February 6, with details of broadcast times to be announced shortly.
"Waitangi Day and its significance in the history and future of our country will always endure, despite this year's commemorations being disrupted on the Treaty grounds. Therefore, I encourage New Zealanders to commemorate Waitangi Day 2022 in their own homes and in their own communities - as many have always done," Tipene said.
8:40am - New Zealand could potentially experience simultaneous outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants, an expert has warned, as the former still poses a threat that could be overlooked with the focus now solely on the emergence of the newer strain.
Dr James Hadfield, a Wanaka-based sequencing expert with Seattle's Bedford Lab, told the New Zealand Herald that the threat of the Delta variant should not be relegated to the back-burner.
The majority of New Zealand's community cases are still carrying the Delta strain - of the 25 new cases on Monday, 17 were Delta and eight were Omicron - one of which was initially reported on Sunday but missed the deadline.
"We are potentially going to have to deal with simultaneous Delta and Omicron outbreaks," Dr Hadfield said.
The expert is a proponent of the Government's move to expand whole genome sequencing to confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community, as well as border workers - and their families - who test positive for the virus.
Previously, the Ministry of Health had prioritised whole genome sequencing for COVID-positive international arrivals. Samples from new arrivals will still be analysed as part of routine sequencing, however unlinked cases of COVID-19 in the community will now be the main priority.
"This new approach will help to detect any cases of Omicron as quickly as possible, establish any links to existing cases, and slow the spread of the virus. These samples will be treated as urgent and tested within 12-24 hours of being received by the laboratory," the ministry said on Monday.
"Furthermore, as we are now assuming all recent arrivals who test positive have the Omicron variant, we will also prioritise whole genome sequencing for any positive cases of COVID-19 in border-related workers and their families."
DHadfieldr said the decision is a "hugely important" step.
"The cost is worth every penny," he told the Herald. "There is a lag but the information is so valuable.
"One of the things that genome sequencing allows us to do is to identify whether a positive case at the border [or in] the community is Delta or Omicron."
8:25am - Leading epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says relaxing isolation requirements is "the right thing to do" when the Omicron variant has eventually become a common illness in New Zealand.
Currently, people who test positive are required to isolate for the full 14-day period. However, household contacts of the case - with many people now isolating at home instead of managed isolation and quarantine facilities - are required to isolate for a further 10 days to ensure they are not carrying the virus. This means some people will be taking a maximum of 24 days off work.
In the future, when the variant has become almost normalised in New Zealand, these requirements should change, Baker told RNZ's Morning Report on Tuesday.
"At the moment, we're still treating Omicron like the Delta variant - we're still trying to identify every case and stamp out those lines of transmission - and that's the right thing to do while numbers are small. That will really delay the takeoff of this outbreak.
"But later on, when Omicron is everywhere, it's quite reasonable - in fact it's the right thing to do - to relax the isolation requirements."
Elsewhere around the world, the isolation period has been shortened to 10 days or seven days - in the US, people with COVID-19 are only required to isolate for five days, followed by five days of wearing a mask around others if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving.
Baker says that is too short, noting that while Omicron's incubation period is shorter - around three days - the tail of the infection is still reasonably long. People can still have a large viral load up to five days after their symptoms have peaked, Baker said, citing recent research.
"I think seven days may be about as short as it can go for the isolation of cases."
The isolation period for household contacts will also eventually be reduced, Baker said.. He noted that exemptions may be granted for certain sectors, such as healthcare, to ensure essential staffers can get back to the frontline, or the isolation period will be shortened for critical industries.
8:15am - The Government needs to "get moving" on boosting its supply of rapid antigen tests (RATs) if it wants businesses to be able to regularly screen its employees when the Omicron outbreak is in full swing, Professor Michael Baker said on Tuesday.
The leading epidemiologist says regularly screening employees will be important during the outbreak to ensure people can get back to work - however, questions have been raised as to whether the Government has procured enough of the testing kits to do so.
RATs are considered by experts to be a critical tool for managing COVID-19 due to their speed and efficiency. It's expected PCR testing capacity - where the nose is swabbed by a healthcare worker at a clinic or testing centre - will be overwhelmed when the Omicron variant takes hold.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson from the New Zealand Ministry of Health said there were 5.5 million RATs in the country with 20 million more on order, which will arrive in batches over the next six months.
RATs produce a result for COVID-19 within about 15 minutes - comparatively, it can take a few days for a result to be returned from a PCR test. However, RATs are known to be less reliable than the traditional swabs.
"That's when you need a lot of testing - you're testing a whole workforce, maybe several times a week. So that is a problem," Baker told RNZ's Morning Report.
"We have still got some time, a few weeks, before this is going to be a very intense outbreak in New Zealand - but we do have to get moving on that."
8am - Elective surgeries may be temporarily suspended once more if hospitalisations surge during the looming outbreak of the Omicron variant, says Health Minister Andrew Little, amid fears the chronically understaffed healthcare system will be overwhelmed with cases.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB's Tim Dower on Tuesday, the minister said while there is capacity at New Zealand's hospitals, "adaptation is happening" to further prepare the health system for a possible onslaught of Omicron infections.
Little admitted that New Zealand has a "short-staffed workforce" of healthcare professionals, but claimed some estimates - such as the country reportedly being short of 12,500 nurses - are exaggerated.
"The system has coped. We do have a short-staffed workforce, but not to the turn of the numbers I saw yesterday," he said.
He noted that the return to the red setting and its more restrictive public health measures will help to "keep the worst of the pressure" off of the system.
Regarding fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed by a surge in infections, Little noted that many people will be able to recover from the Omicron variant at home.
"The vast majority can take care of themselves at home. With Omicron, we know the health effects aren't as severe as Delta, so a lot more people will be cared for in their home."
Elective, non-critical surgeries may be postponed again - as seen in previous outbreaks - if hospitalisations rapidly increase.
"We have capacity," he said. "A lot of adaptation is happening."
7:50am - The health system is preparing for an influx of up to 50,000 new cases of the Omicron variant each day - the worst-case scenario, according to Health Minister Andrew Little.
District Health Boards have been advised to prepare for the possibility of 50,000 new cases a day, Little told Newstalk ZB's Tim Dower on Tuesday morning - however, the preparation is precautionary and health officials realistically expect a lower number due to the public health measures in place.
"The people predicting the numbers say at its peak, we will have between 5000 and 50,000 cases a day - that is the number in the worst-case scenario, that we have to have a system that is prepared for," Little said.
He reiterated that 50,000 new cases a day does not equate to 50,000 hospitalisations each day, given New Zealand's high rates of vaccination and the milder nature of the Omicron variant. Although highly infectious, the strain typically produces less severe symptoms and illness than its earlier counterparts.
"[The hospitals] need to be prepared for hundreds of new cases a day, but what we know from the Delta experience… is that a lot of people who go to hospital with COVID are there for two to three days, and then out again," he said.
"We also know that as a country we're taking precautions that countries like Australia and the UK... didn't take. Those 'tens of thousands' [of cases] are at the extreme end - we expect realistically a number lower than that and the number going to hospital will [also] be lower."
7:40am - The daughter of TVNZ presenter Wendy Petrie has tested positive for COVID-19 mere days after arriving in the US.
Addison, who is studying at the University of San Diego on a rowing scholarship, tested positive after her roommate contracted the virus, the Herald reports.
In a post to her Instagram, Petrie shared the news and said Addision was now in isolation.
"Building resilience," Petrie wrote.
"Less than 2 weeks in the US & Addie has COVID. Now in iso.
"No symptoms, otherwise loving Uni & rowing."
The mum-of-three told the Herald that Addison remains in good spirits and has a "positive attitude".
7:30am - The isolating Motueka family at the centre of the Omicron outbreak says they are doing well after contracting the variant.
Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, a family member said they are "all good".
The man confirmed the family is quarantining together at a motel.
A local told the Herald their symptoms appear to be mild.
The family has links to New Zealand's Sikh community, according to the outlet.
Confirmation of the nine cases in Motueka over the weekend prompted the Government to urgently shift the nation into the red setting of the 'traffic light' system, in preparation for an onslaught of further infections.
It's currently unknown how the family contracted the virus and an index case has yet to be identified in the outbreak, meaning it's not yet clear how Omicron entered the community.
An Air New Zealand staffer has since tested positive for the strain after travelling on one of the flights taken by the family.
The family travelled on the following flights while infectious:
- Flight NZ 5083 from Auckland to Nelson at 5.20pm on January 16
- Flight NZ 5080 from Nelson to Auckland at 4pm on January 19
- Flight NZ 5077 from Auckland to Nelson at 2pm on January 19.
A fully vaccinated staffer at the Summerset by the Park retirement village in Flat Bush, who is associated with the Motueka family, has also tested positive. The facility has been closed to visitors while testing takes place.
Eight further cases were reported on Monday - five in Auckland, two in Nelson-Tasman (one of which was reported on Sunday) and one in Palmerston North.
7:20am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage on the COVID-19 outbreak for Tuesday, January 25.