As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 17

The Ministry of Health has announced another sharp spike in cases on Thursday with 1573 infections and 63 people in hospital. 

Auckland also saw a jump in cases recording 1140 infections compared to 861 the day before. 
It comes after Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital reported a COVID outbreak with 12 positive cases confirmed. 

Auckland District Health Board confirmed to Newshub that six staff and six patients have tested positive for the virus with the outbreak likely to be linked to a positive case on ward 25 at Starship last week.

What you need to know:

  • Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has activated a major operations centre in response to the anti-COVID vaccine mandate protests at Parliament, saying the impact of the demonstration activity in Wellington is "no longer tenable".
  • Protesters have been told to clear the roads, or their vehicles will be towed.
  • Meanwhile, there were 1573 new community COVID cases in New Zealand on Thursday
  • Location of new community cases: 1140 are in Auckland, 143 in Waikato, 49 in Nelson Marlborough, 35 in Lakes, 35 in Southern, 31 in Northland, 30 in Wairarapa, 29 in Bay of Plenty, 22 in Hutt Valley, 20 in Capital and Coast, 11 in Whanganui, eight in Taranaki, eight in Tairāwhit, seven in Canterbury, three in MidCentral and two in Hawke's Bay. 
  • Number of new cases identified at the border on Wednesday: 15
  • Cases in hospital on Wednesday: Total number 63; 8 are in Auckland, 22 in Middlemore, 4 in North Shore, three in Tauranga, three in Waikato, one in Rotorua, one in Wellington and one in Tairawhiti.
  • A "small number" of police HQ staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • NZ moved to phase 2 of the Government's Omicron plan on Tuesday night.
  • You can see the latest locations of interest here.

These live updates have finished.

8:16pm - It's been confirmed there are positive cases of COVID-19 within police headquarters in Wellington. This below from a police spokesperson:

Community cases of COVID-19 are rising across the country and police as an organisation is also seeing a small number of cases within our staff.

For privacy reasons and because the situation is changing so quickly, we won't be getting into specifics. We can confirm a small number of our staff based at police national headquarters (PNHQ) have returned positive tests and they are isolating along with their close contacts.

The positive cases have not impacted key operational functions at PNHQ. 

Police national headquarters, like all our police districts, is well experienced at responding to critical events and adapting our delivery to changing demands and needs.

We have been planning and preparing for the delivery of policing services in the COVID-19 and more specifically the Omicron environment.

While these may be challenging times, we are focussed on ensuring the health and wellbeing of our people and delivering the policing service the community expects.

5:40pm - Otago Polytechnic says it has acted swiftly to tell students and staff about a positive COVID-19 case having been at on Castle St.

"Otago Polytechnic is working with a range of agencies and partners, including the University of Otago, to educate and inform students,” says Dr Megan Gibbons, chief executive of Otago Polytechnic.

"We have implemented a wide range of measures to ensure the health and safety of learners, staff and others, now that COVID-19 and the Omicron variant has a more active presence in our community."

Gibbons says academic staff are prepared for the rise in cases and have been working on plans to deliver face-to-face teaching, although there will be someone online lectures depending on the circumstances.

"We acknowledge this is a stressful time. We urge any students who feel scared or anxious, have questions or need support in any way, to contact our Student Support teams. Likewise, we urge staff to utilise our support systems."

5:10pm - Speaker Trevor Mallard says there will not be any dialogue with protesters currently occupying Parliament and surrounding areas until "the protest returns to one within the law".

"[This includes] the clearing of all illegally parked vehicles that are blocking streets, the removal of unauthorised structures, and the cessation of the intimidation of Wellingtonians," he says.

"We note that there is a history of Parliamentarians attending peaceful protests or hearing from the leaders of groups who are at Parliament peacefully."

5pm - Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira says it support's the right of all New Zealanders to peacefully protest in Aotearoa.

"As Mana Whenua of Wellington we have watched the protest at Parliament with mixed feelings. The genuine anguish and anger of protesters has been evident and confronting, and given our history, is well understood by us," they say.

"The impact of our nation's public health response to the global pandemic has been world leading and clearly saved New Zealanders lives. It has, however, exacted a real and painful price for many, and for the protesters, the price has clearly been too high. We understand that, and call on the Government to urgently evaluate the options for removing and healing that pain.

"However, the intimidating and threatening behaviour that some protesters have shown towards the Wellington community, and in particular, tamariki and rangatahi on their way to and from school, has been deplorable."

They say that in recent days, their offices, marae, and members of their iwi have also been the target of "intimidating and threatening" behaviour because of our many efforts to ensure the vaccinated safety of our communities.

Also of concern to them has been the impact on small business people in Wellington by the protesters blocking the streets and intimidating them and their customers.

"Due to these disgraceful and disrespectful actions, as Mana Whenua, we support and encourage the New Zealand Government, the Wellington City Council and the NZ Police to clear the roads of Wellington and to protect all those who have been and continue to be threatened, intimidated and victimised," they say.

"We support the legal rights of protesters, and call on them to do the same for the people of Wellington."

4:45pm - As mentioned, there are locations of interest at Castle St in Dunedin. 

The University of Otago says it is continuing to work closely with Public Health South.

"We urge any students and staff who are feeling unwell to get tested," a spokesperson says.

"The University of Otago is working with community partners including the Police, OUSA, Otago Polytechnic and OPSA to educate and inform students of the risk and expectations to keep them and the community safe.

"We have used a variety of communication channels to inform all students that mass gatherings pose a significant health risk and that large gatherings of returning students in North Dunedin at informal social events are a serious concern."

4:30pm - There are two new locations of interest, both of which centre around parties in Dunedin. They are:

  • Castle Street Party, Dunedin, 7pm on February 12 to 1am to February 13
  • Castle Street Party, Dunedin, 7pm on February 14 to 12:30am on February 15.

4:10pm - Mayor of Dunedin Aaron Hawkins is encouraging Dunedin's student population to follow health guidelines after a positive COVID-19 case and locations of interest in Castle St.

Hawkins says COVID-19 was always going to find its way back to Dunedin and into the city's large student population.

"That said, this news will still be unsettling, if inevitable, for many people. I encourage everyone to follow the rules to minimise the spread of this virus over the coming days," he says.

"Now is not the time to be attending large parties or ignoring other health guidelines under our current red traffic light settings, given the heightened risk of transmission.

"We should all be focused on doing everything we can collectively to flatten the curve and minimise the disruption to our critical health services over the coming days, weeks and months."

But Hawkins adds that the city's effort over the past two years mean it's more prepared for the return of the virus.

"It does mean we will have to redouble our efforts, but I'm confident we can get through this just like we have before."

He encourages everyone who hasn't to get vaccinated and boosted.

3:50pm - Hairdressing chain Just Cuts is the latest in the industry to call for New Zealand's borders to open, saying their 29 salons are struggling due to ongoing staffing shortages.

"Hairdressers across the country are currently struggling to survive the three punch impact of managing COVID, staying on top of rent plus retaining and attracting staff to the industry," the company said in a statement.

Chief executive Amber Manning said Just Cuts had created an apprenticeship program to train local talent, even though Just Cuts only employ fully qualified hairdressers, but the Government wouldn’t support it.

"Just Cuts thanks the New Zealand Government for their small business support to date, and we are again calling on them to help our salon owners and teams rebuild," Manning said.

"I'm calling on the Government to understand the nature of the staffing epidemic all New Zealand hairdressers are still facing and then urgently reopen the borders to alleviate the shortage...

"No one wants our salons to have to close due to not having enough staff to open their doors."

3:35pm - Concerning news for the Government as 10,000 allied, public health, scientific and technical professionals who work in DHBs voted to strike on Thursday.

Two 24-hour strikes are planned for March 4 and March 18.

There have been widespread concerns that our health sector could be at breaking point when Omicron cases reach their peak, and the loss of thousands of health workers will be an unwelcome development with COVID-19 surging to record heights.

The PSA says more than 70 groups of workers will take strike action - from laboratory workers responsible for COVID-19 tests, to contact tracers, to sterile supplies technicians who clean surgical equipment prior to procedures.

"New Zealand needs each and every one of these professionals. And yet many of them don’t even earn a living wage," says PSA organiser Will Matthews.

The PSA is demanding higher wages and improved wage progression, equal treatment to other health professions, the enablement of pay equity, safe staffing and improvements to recruitment and retention.

3:15pm - National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop and Education spokesperson Erica Stanford have issued a scathing press release lambasting the Government for failing to order enough rapid antigen tests (RATs).

The pair say it's causing chaos for children and schools, with multiple schools having contacted them expressing concern they’re not part of the Government's Close Contact Exemption Scheme, so can't access RATs.

"The Government's overly bureaucratic close contact scheme doesn’t define schools as 'critical', apparently except for in a situation where there wouldn’t be enough teachers in the school to cater to the children of critical workers," Bishop said.

"Creating multiple, complex layers of eligibility is an admission by the Government that they do not have enough rapid tests to go round.

"Incredibly, some schools have even secured their own supply of rapid tests only to be told that they can’t use them for return-to-work purposes - truly a perverse and wrong-headed policy outcome."

Stanford says access to RATs is urgently needed to keep children and teachers safe.

"On the same day Ministry of Education officials are emailing principals to say they’re not included in the scheme, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall is telling Parliament that schools are included. It’s emblematic of a Government that doesn’t have a plan and is making things up on the fly.  

"We’ve been calling for the Government to make rapid tests available in every school. With over 1000 cases a day, Omicron is spreading quickly so the need has never been more urgent.

"If the Government hadn’t dropped the ball so badly and gotten onto ordering the tests when National first started calling it, we wouldn’t be in the position where they’re having to ration tests and shut schools out of their bureaucratic nightmare of a scheme."

2:50pm - Queensland reported 5665 new cases on Thursday - 1668 of which were children - with another 408 in hospital.

A huge 38 new deaths were reported, though the majority of these were identified over an extended time period and didn't indicate a record day for deaths in the state.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said the reported death toll included 27 deaths from as far back as January 17, which were sourced from death certificates.

2:20pm - Below is a visual representation of just how quickly Omicron is spreading around New Zealand.

Here's a crazy stat: today's 1573 community cases in 24 hours is more infections than New Zealand had during its entire first COVID-19 outbreak, which ended on June 8, 2020 (1504 cases).

2:05pm - The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says as of 11:30am on Thursday, 15,284 businesses had self-registered for the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, covering 704,268 employees.

The scheme allows businesses that self-identify as providers of critical services to enable employees who are close contacts to return to work after returning negative RATs.

Asked whether they would be carrying out a review of businesses that register to determine whether they are in fact critical, MBIE said businesses self-assess as critical and there is no approval process.

"The register will be checked, however, to monitor overall compliance. Businesses who have incorrectly registered may be removed by the Director General of Health."

1:41pm - The Ministry of Health has announced one new location of interest. 

The location is:

  • Jetstar Flight JQ294 Queenstown to Auckland - Friday, 11 February from 9pm to 11pm 

The ministry said you are a close contact if you were seated in rows 14,15,16,17 and 18. 

The ministry asks if you are a close contact to "self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed". 

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice - and updates to existing locations of interest - click here.

1:09pm - The Ministry of Health have provided an update on the distribution of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) across New Zealand.

 Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said more than 3 million RATs have been distributed across New Zealand for workers who keep New Zealand's critical services and supply chains moving, and those in our community most at risk from the effects of COVID-19.

The deliveries follow the opening of the Close Contact Exemption Scheme and the move to Phase 2 of the Omicron response strategy.

Dr Bloomfield said the RATs have been sent to sites including District Health Boards, Healthcare and Emergency Service workforces, testing facilities, GP clinics, aged care facilities and community health providers.

"The Ministry has also provided RATs directly to organisations, including businesses that are currently affected by outbreaks, to make it easier to test their workers who are contacts and keep their organisations running," Dr Bloomfield said.

"Although there are still significant global supply constraints, we have secured the delivery of enough RATs to help New Zealand through a widespread Omicron outbreak in the coming months.

"There are currently 7.3 million RATs in the system with around 22.5 million expected by the end of the month, including 9.2 million due to arrive by the end of next week.

"On the first day of the scheme around 200 orders were received and we expect these numbers to go up rapidly which is why we will be scaling up in line with demand.

"There are collection sites in every DHB around the country, with nearly 100 collection sites ready to go across New Zealand. This number will increase in line with demand as cases rise during the outbreak and more critical workers become close contacts.

"We are also working with around 1000 community health providers to help those we know experience poorer outcomes, higher death rates and increased health, economic and social inequities from the effects of COVID-19.

"These providers have demonstrated in previous outbreaks that they can deliver local and regional approaches that help people access testing when they need it.

"So if you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms you should still contact your health provider to get a PCR test, and if you don't have symptoms then you don't need to get a test.

"It's still important to keep up with the basic healthcare prevention measures - stay home if you're sick, get a booster if it's been three months since your second shot, wash your hands, wear your mask, scan in and maintain social distancing where possible."

1:05pm - Here is the latest data from the Ministry of Health on the outbreak and vaccination campaign:

COVID-19 vaccine update 

  • Vaccines administered to date (percentage of eligible people aged 12 and over): 4,014,939 first doses (96%); 3,948,146 second doses (95%); 2,006,361 booster doses (62%). 
  • Vaccines administered yesterday: 2,320 first doses; 1,487 second doses; 1,677 paediatric doses; 40,452 booster doses. 
  • Māori (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 517,070 first doses (91%); 494,268 second doses (87%). 
  • Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 279,533 first doses (98%); 272,795 second doses (95%). 
  • Paediatric vaccines administered to date (percentage of 5-11-year-olds): 219,666 first doses (46%) 
  • Māori (percentage of eligible people aged 5-11): 31,112 first doses (27%) 
  • Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people aged 5-11): 18,254 first doses (37%) 

Vaccination rates for all DHBs (percentage of eligible people aged 12 +) 

  • Northland DHB: first doses (90%); second doses (87%)
  • Auckland Metro DHBs: first doses (97%); second doses (96%)
  • Waikato DHB: first doses (95%); second doses (93%)
  • Bay of Plenty DHB: first doses (95%); second doses (93%)
  • Lakes DHB: first doses (93%); second doses (91%)
  • MidCentral DHB: first doses (97%); second doses (95%)
  • Tairāwhiti DHB: first doses (93%); second doses (90%)
  • Whanganui DHB: first doses (92%); second doses (90%)
  • Hawke’s Bay: first doses (97%); second doses (95%)
  • Taranaki DHB: first doses (95%); second doses (93%)
  • Wairarapa DHB: first doses (97%); second doses (95%)
  • Capital and Coast DHB: first doses (99%); second doses (98%)
  • Hutt Valley DHB: first doses (97%); second doses (95%)
  • Nelson Marlborough DHB: first doses (97%); second doses (95%)
  • West Coast DHB: first doses (93%); second doses (91%)
  • Canterbury DHB: first doses (99%); second doses (98%)
  • South Canterbury DHB: first doses (95%); second doses (94%)
  • Southern DHB: first doses (98%); second doses (96%)   


  • Cases in hospital: total number 63: North Shore: 4; Middlemore: 22; Auckland: 28; Rotorua: 1; Tauranga: 3; Waikato: 3; Wellington: 1, Tairawhiti: 1. 
  • Average age of current hospitalisations: 62
  • Cases in ICU or HDU: 0
  • Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region only, excluding Emergency Departments): Unvaccinated or not eligible (4 cases / 9%); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (N/A cases / 0%); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (27 cases / 59%); unknown (15 cases / 32%).


  • Seven day rolling average of community cases: 844
  • Seven day rolling average of border cases: 17
  • Number of new community cases: 1,573
  • Location of new community cases*: Northland (31), Auckland (1,140), Waikato (143), Bay of Plenty (29), Lakes (35), Hawke’s Bay (2), MidCentral (3), Whanganui (11), Taranaki (8), Tairāwhiti (8), Wairarapa (30), Capital and Coast (20), Hutt Valley (22), Nelson Marlborough (49), Canterbury (7), Southern (35).
  • Number of new cases identified at the border: 15  
  • Location of origin of border cases: India (1), Australia (1) Full travel history not obtained (10).
  • Number of active community cases (total): 8,147 (cases identified in the past 21 days and not yet classified as recovered) 
  • Confirmed cases (total): 24,660

* Please note, the Ministry of Health’s daily reported cases may differ slightly from those reported at a DHB or local public health unit level. This is because of different reporting cut off times and the assignment of cases between regions, for example when a case is tested outside their usual region of residence. Total numbers will always be the formal daily case tally as reported to the WHO.


  • Number of tests total (last 24 hours): 32,285
  • Tests rolling average (last 7 days): 24,175
  • Number of Rapid Antigen Tests stock available in New Zealand: 7.3 million

1:04pm - The Ministry has provided an updated about their "Big Boost" campaign:

The Big Boost push continues to see tens of thousands of people going out to get their booster dose each day. Yesterday, 40,452 booster doses were administered across the motu and brings the total so far to more than two million doses.

It’s also fantastic news that more than 90% of Māori aged 12 years and over in the Hutt Valley have now been full vaccinated, becoming the fourth DHB area in Aotearoa to achieve this milestone.

The most important step anyone can take to prepare for Omicron is to book their vaccine which is our best defence against the virus.

Every dose counts and lowers the chances of getting very sick and being hospitalised, so if it’s been three months since your last dose, please book your booster today.

Since January 22, when the first Omicron case was detected in the community, double vaccinated cases are ten times less likely to require hospitalisation than unvaccinated cases – 4% of unvaccinated cases have required hospitalisation and 0.4% of fully vaccinated cases have required hospitalisation.

Testing reminder

We are continuing to experience high demand at COVID-19 testing sites and we are asking people to please be patient. It’s important that you only seek a test if you have cold or flu symptoms, have been identified as a close contact, or have been asked to get tested by a health official. 

We understand that some people will be feeling worried or anxious at this time and will want a test for their own reassurance. However, unnecessary testing will result in long waits at testing centres and could also delay results for those who urgently need them.

For a full list of testing sites nationwide, visit the Healthpoint website

Keep scanning

Scanning in with the NZ COVID Tracer App continues to be a valuable tool for identifying locations of interest and contacts of cases under Phase 2. Keeping a record of where you have been will enable you to quickly identify if you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and quickly contact your contacts if you become a case.

Keeping Bluetooth enabled also helps to anonymously protect people you’ve been near.

Neither the Ministry of Health – or any other government agencies - have access to the data on your phone. This is held by you unless you agree to share it with contact tracers or upload it through the contact tracing form.

1:02pm - The Ministry of Health has announced another record day of cases with 1573 new infections and 63 people in hospital on Thursday.

Of the new community infections, 1140 are in Auckland, 143 in Waikato, 49 in Nelson Marlborough, 35 in Lakes, 35 in Southern, 31 in Northland, 30 in Wairarapa, 29 in Bay of Plenty, 22 in Hutt Valley, 20 in Capital and Coast, 11 in Whanganui, eight in Taranaki, eight in Tairāwhit, seven in Canterbury, three in MidCentral and two in Hawke's Bay. 

The ministry announced there are 63 people in hospital with none in ICU or HDU.

Of the 63 people in hospital: 28 are in Auckland, 22 in Middlemore, 4 in North Shore, three in Tauranga, three in Waikato, one in Rotorua, one in Wellington and one in Tairawhiti.

There are 15 new COVID cases recorded at the border in Managed Isolation and Quarantine.

12:57pm - The Cook Islands have confirmed that the two travelling companions of the first confirmed community COVID case in the island nation on Sunday, have tested positive for coronavirus.

The original case arrived in the Cook Islands last Thursday and received a test on Sunday after being advised that family members in New Zealand had tested positive for COVID.

"Being close contacts, it is not surprising that the travelling companions have also tested positive," Prime Minister Brown said during a press conference on Thursday morning. 

Health Ministry Te Marae Ora said a total of 175 PCR swabs were tested on Wednesday with 172 returning negative results. One was inconclusive and will be re-tested and the two close contacts returned positive results.

The close contacts had initially tested negative on Monday and both informed health staff of developing persisting sore throats which worsened on Wednesday, so they were tested again. Those tests have returned positive results.

The two close contacts will now remain in isolation for a further 10 days on top of the previous two days spent in quarantine. The original case also remains in isolation.

All three will be discharged once they have reached the end of their respective 10-day isolation periods, provided they have been symptom-free for at least 72 hours beforehand.

"We have prepared for this situation as best we can across Te Marae Ora, the Puna structure and government as a whole," Brown said. 

"Whilst it is normal that some of our people will feel anxious about what is happening, we will get through this.

"I urge people on Rarotonga, if they haven't already, to get a booster this Saturday to improve their protection. 

"The opportunity is also there for people to start or continue their vaccination programme, including that of our 5-11-year-olds."

12:46pm - As usual, the Ministry of Health will release its daily statement with the latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak at around 1pm.

Stay tuned, as we will publish the newest developments live as soon as the statement is available.

12:43pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has just concluded her press conference in Rotorua where she was asked about the protest outside Parliament and the rise in COVID cases. 

Ardern said the priority for the Government is the surging COVID cases, not the "illegal" actions protesters have taken.  

She says, her focus is on "growing pandemic and keeping people safe", while adding: "we have a duty to all New Zealanders to focus on the pandemic".

Arden says that the issue with the protest is the building of camps on Parliament's lawns, stopping or intimidating children going to school, blocking roads and harassing people who were wearing masks. 

She says that behaviour "is not acceptable".

12:35pm - Blues flanker Tom Robinson has slammed New Zealand's vaccine mandates, denying the unvaccinated the chance to play rugby in the coming season.

In December, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) implemented a mandate across all 26 of its provincial unions that means those who have not received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will not be able to take part in club competitions.

Taking to Instagram, 27-year-old Blues flanker Robinson took aim at the mandates and their effect, posting a link to a petition that would see the Government's directives removed.

Robinson was raised in and represents Northland at provincial level. The region has some of the lowest vaccine rates in the country with just 87 percent of the eligible population fully inoculated. 

"Looking forward to finally be back playing some footy this year," Robinson writes. "However, unfortunately, due to Govt mandates, not everyone who wants to play rugby in this country is able to.

"For me, this is deeply concerning because of the effects that this is likely to cause on these individuals, especially for my community back home in Northland.

"Rugby has been a massive part of my life. It's taught me the benefits of working hard, and how to work together as a team. It's shown me the mental health benefits of exercising and feeling a part of a team, and enabled me to play alongside people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. All Important life lessons that have helped shaped [sic] me into the person I am today.

"To think that people will be denied this experience because of their choice not to get vaccinated is wrong, and that's why I've signed the petition, (which is available through the link in my bio) to repeal the mandates imposed by the Govt."

Read the fulls story here.

12:23pm - Police have provided an update on the protest outside Parliament in Wellington. 

They said police remained at Parliament grounds overnight monitoring the activity of protesters.

"Last night, staff dealt with a protester who suffered a medical event inside Parliament grounds.

The woman was taken to hospital but once again the ambulance was unable to drive directly to her because of the protesters’ vehicles blocking surrounding roads," police said. 

"We continue to urge protesters to move the vehicles blocking roads as these are not only an inconvenience but also a danger in situations like this.

"Since announcing an intention to tow vehicles from the streets surrounding the Parliament protest and appealing for further support from tow operators, Police now has access to significantly increased tow capacity.

"Having observed the response from protestors and noting the ongoing dynamics of similar situations overseas, Police is continuing to exercise careful judgement about when to commence a towing phase.

"For the time-being, Police is continuing to focus on engagement with protest leaders with the aim of building on the initial positive responses we have seen so far.

"Police recognises the ongoing significant impacts of the protest on residents and users of the central city, and acknowledges the patience of all concerned while we work to a peaceful de-escalation and resolution.

"As we continue to work toward this end, Police will be significantly increasing visibility and presence around the area to ensure the safety of all."

Police said there were no further arrests overnight.

12:19pm - The Ministry of Health has announced one new 'high risk' location of interest.

The location is:

  • Air New Zealand Flight NZ5579 Auckland to Palmerston North - Monday,  14 February from 8am to 10:15am  

The ministry said you are a close contact if you were seated in rows 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13. 

If you are a close contact, the ministry asks you to "self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed". 

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice - and updates to existing locations of interest - click here.

12:08pm - New Zealand First leader Winston Peter is calling on the COVID-19 modelling to be released for public scrutiny. 

"How can the government ask us to 'trust the science' if we aren't shown what the science is that is being used?" Peters says.

"Transparency is even more important now given the phenomenally inaccurate nature of some of the recent models that had us threatened with fifty thousand cases by Waitangi Day.

"The COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins himself has said that he has 'always been sceptical' about the modelling and compared them to weather forecasts.

"It's astounding that the public should continue to be asked to believe the numbers without being able to see and analyse any assumptions, background science, criteria, or data being used.

"The government has an obligation to release the entirety of this data they are using to enforce restrictions that are effecting so many kiwis' lives.

"We should not be continually subjected to dire predictions of catastrophic numbers and an overwhelming of our health system without it being either corrected or confirmed by the government," says Mr Peters.

"The latest data (as of 11am today) shows that only around 0.8% of all detected cases are in hospital - with zero in ICU.  

"The government needs to answer how that compares with the modelling they have been using to take so many kiwis' freedoms away."

12:04pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is holding a press conference in Rotorua with the latest on COVID-19 Omicron outbreak and the Parliament protest.

She is due to speak at 12pm. You can watch it live here.

11:30am - In Victoria, they have seen a slight increase in COVID cases on Thursday with 8,501 new infections reported. 

The new cases are up from Wednesday's announcement of 8,149 COVID infections. 

Victoria Health said there was a decrease in coronavirus deaths with nine in the past 24 hours, up from 18 recorded on Wednesday.

Hospitalisations have slightly increased with 401 people in the hospital up from 397 on Wednesday.

There are 78 people in ICU with 16 people on a ventilator.

11:17am - Over in Australia, New South Wales has seen a decline in COVID case numbers in the past 24 hours with 9,995 new infections. 

New South Wales Health said there were 14 coronavirus deaths, down from 27 on Wednesday. 

Hospitalisations have decreased for the fourth straight day with 1,447 people in hospital - compared to 1,478 on Monday - with 92 people in ICU.

11:12am - The Ministry of Health has announced four new 'high risk' locations of interest with five exposure times in Auckland and Queenstown. 

The locations are:

  •  Metcon Madness Remuera - Saturday, 12 February from 9:30am to 11:45am 
  •  El Camino Cantina Queenstown -  Sunday, 13 February from 12pm to 8:30pm and Saturday, 12 February from 7pm to 11pm 
  •  AJ Hackett Auckland Bridge Bungy & Climb Westhaven - Saturday, 12 February from 1:23pm to 2:30pm
  • The Club Queenstown - From Saturday, 5 February 11:15pm to Sunday, 6 February 12:15am

The ministry asks if you were a close contact at one of the locations of interest during the exposure time to "self-isolate, test immediately and on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest". 

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice - and updates to existing locations of interest - click here.

11:05am - Destination Queenstown (DQ) wants to reassure Kiwis that Queenstown is still open for business and welcoming visitors.

This comes after media headlines this week stating that Queenstown could be closed in the coming week.

DQ said while there is no doubt that the whole country is facing challenges due to Omicron, Queenstown continues to manage this in-line with the COVID Red setting and operators continue to offer the world-class experiences for which Queenstown is famous.

The Queenstown Lakes district is one of the most highly vaccinated parts of the country and businesses are working hard to operate safely within the current framework and in-line with the latest government advice.

DQ Chair Richard Thomas said that while the uncertain nature of operating with COVID isn't going away anytime soon, local businesses in Queenstown were doing a fantastic job of continuing to trade in this environment and wanted to let the rest of NZ know we are open.

"We are seeing Omicron spreading across New Zealand, and Queenstown is no different, but our businesses are going to great lengths to keep operating safely within the COVID Protection Framework to keep our visitors safe," Thomas said.

"There are certainly challenges operating with the current requirements, and we are keen to see things like RAT testing made widely available to support staffing and help with business continuity. 

"But the key message here is that Queenstown is open for business and collectively we are looking forward to showing Kiwis a great time on their next visit to our spectacular region."

10:53am - Top Government officials that make up the Officials' Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC) are meeting on Thursday to discuss the protest and the Government's response.

The protest is into its tenth day, which has seen over 120 people arrested while protesters' vehicles still block main roads around Parliament 

They want to make sure that "all risks and potential implications" of the protest are understood.

10:32am - Wellington City Council has told Newshub they have issued just over 500 tickets in relation to the protest.

The price of tickets will either be $40 or $60, which totals to around $25,000.

10:15am - Auckland District Health Board has told Newshub on Thursday there are 12 cases of COVID-19 at Starship Children's Hospital. 

"We can confirm that as of Wednesday 16 February six Starship staff members and six Starship patients have tested positive for COVID-19, likely to be linked to a positive case on ward 25 at Starship last week,"  Dr Mike Shepherd, Auckland DHB director of provider services told Newshub on Thursday. 

"We immediately activated our plans to prevent the spread of the virus within the hospital and have worked quickly to test staff and patients on the ward.

"We understand it may be worrying for patients and their whānau if they or their loved one tests positive for COVID-19.

"The safety of our patients, whānau and staff is a priority for us and we’ve been preparing for the likely impact of Omicron on our hospitals and community services."

Shepherd said since New Zealand is seeing a higher number of COVID cases in the community, it’s not "unexpected" for some of the hospitals' staff to test positive for the virus. 

"As we’re now seeing very high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community, it’s not unexpected for some of our workforce to contract COVID-19 and to see high numbers of people with COVID-19 in our hospitals," he said. 

"We have robust protocols and plans in place for when a COVID-19 case is identified among our workforce, patients or whānau.

"With the increased transmission of Omicron, people are often infectious before they display symptoms. 

"We’re very grateful to our staff who are vigilant at looking out for any signs of COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested quickly, and to those who regularly take part in surveillance testing. This helps us to identify COVID-19 cases early and quickly, and reduce the risk of transmission."

Shepherd said the hospital has "robust" measures that are in place to stop the spread of the virus and so far no further cases have been identified.

"In addition to having fully vaccinated staff, we have robust infection prevention control measures in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in our hospitals," he told Newshub. 

"This includes the use of appropriate PPE, patient and visitor screening, dedicated pathways for patients with COVID-19 and limited numbers of visitors on-site. All visitors and patients on our sites are required to wear medical masks to help keep everybody safe."

Shepherd wanted to assure people that if you need our care, they are here to help. Our advice to the public is:

  • You should always go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call 111, for life-threatening medical emergencies including:

    • chest pain

    • head injuries

    • severe blood loss

    • major accidents.

  • If you’re dealing with a crisis and need mental health support, please contact our team by calling the Auckland DHB mental health crisis line on 0800 800 717 – we are here to support you 24 hours, 7 days a week. Or, you can call 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor from anywhere in New Zealand.

  • If you have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms and urgently need our care, we have plans to keep you, and others safe. It is important you get the care you need.

  • If you're sick or injured and it’s not urgent, please contact your family doctor, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116, or visit an urgent care clinic. You can find a local clinic by visiting Healthpoint.

10am - A man in MIQ has gone on hunger strike over the restrictions on smoking and drinking.

Andre Huguet said he is unhappy with the treatment he has had from staff and the rules he has encountered, while Omicron spreads in the community outside.

MIQ regulations ban returnees from smoking or exercising outside until their first negative test result - and limits them to a "reasonable amount" of liquor delivered each day.

"I smoke, which is a terrible habit but I also have terrible anxiety problems and they get amplified greatly if I can't have a cigarette," he said.

"I don't want to mingle in their big yard and talk to people and all this, but just have a little cigarette and mind my own business."

Read the full story here. 

9:35am - The protest at Parliament is like nothing journalists here in New Zealand have ever seen before. 

The occupation is into its second week and the police and politicians are struggling to work out how to bring it to a peaceful end. 

On Thursday on The Detail, Emile Donovan and Sharon Brettkelly speak to three journalists reporting on the protest about how it's unfolded, how they've covered it and what's so different about it. 

Newsroom's political reporter Marc Daalder hasn't gone down to speak to the protesters himself, but he has his reasons. 

"It sucks to feel like your place of work is not safe for you. 

"People have different opinions - there are other journalists here who feel perfectly safe, and that's great for them, but they're not people who've received anti-Semitic death threats for three years," Daalder says.

Read the full story here.

9:12am - NZ Post said they are preparing for a sustained Omicron outbreak and are ensuring parcel deliveries can continue while Kiwis are self-isolating. 

The pandemic has had a massive impact on online shopping over the last two years, and NZ Post has continued to increase capacity to meet the demand for parcel delivery as it continues to grow.  

"We brought on 800 extra people at the end of last year to deliver over 50 million parcels in the last six months of the year," NZ Post chief operating officer Brendon Main says.

"It was the biggest Christmas in history for NZ Post and we worked really hard to scale up and deliver for Kiwis.

"A sustained Omicron outbreak will mean different challenges for NZ Post. It's too soon to tell what a large-scale Omicron outbreak might mean for in-store shopping, but we're preparing for both an increase in demand for parcel delivery, as well as a decrease in resource, as it's likely that at any given time some of our workforce will be unwell or self-isolating." 

"In preparation for this, we're getting ahead of things and increasing our capacity to deliver by about 10%, including bringing on more people in advance - and our focus will be to continue scaling up as quickly and safely as we can as the situation develops."  

"We know how critical the role is that we play in connecting Kiwis, especially when many of us might be at home isolating, so we have plans in place to mitigate the impact on our workforce through careful case management and contact tracing."  

"Right now the NZ Post network is operating very close to normal so Kiwis don't need to do anything differently other than continue to be patient and kind as our people work hard to deliver. 

"If the situation changes we'll continue to update customers with advice on ordering online and any potential delays. The best place to check in the first instance is our website," says Main. 

9:03am - A business leader says every business is critical and every worker should be able to use rapid antigen tests (RATs) to return to work early if they are identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case.

Last week the Government revealed which industries are included in their close contact exemption scheme. The scheme came into place when New Zealand moved to phase 2 of the Government's Omicron plan on Tuesday and allows essential workers to return to work without isolation if they return a negative RAT. 

But Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett told AM n Thursday that every worker should be able to use RATs to skip isolation. 

"What we have is a situation where the Government has divided the business community. It says those that are critical and those that aren't but let me tell you every business is critical, every worker is essential they should have the opportunity to work. We shouldn't be destroying businesses or families," Barnett said.

He said businesses across the country are already struggling and the Government needs to be encouraging people back out into the community, not scaring them into isolating "unnecessarily". 

"It's about the Government changing its narrative - at the moment it's negative, it's about red light, it's about stopping and staying at home. We need to change that and the Government needs to talk to business to find out what works best for them and for us." 

Barnett said many people in Auckland are worried about visiting businesses because they don't want to come in contact with a positive case.

University of Auckland professor of medicine Des Gorman agreed. Gorman told AM, businesses should be coming up with their own plans because soon the Government will realise the current rules are "untenable". 

"It's time to have a more liberal view of how we manage people who are close contacts and I think businesses need to accept that the Government's systems are overwhelmed," he said.

"I think businesses need to develop a management strategy for the

8:40am - Speaking to AM, reporter Nats Levi said it's been confirmed that there are 12 COVID cases at Auckland Starship children's hospital.

Starship Hospital told Newshub that the 12 cases are from Wednesday's data and is a mix of six staff and six patients but the number could rise on Thursday.   

Auckland DHB director of provider services Dr Mike Shepherd told Newshub earlier on Thursday that the cases are connected to one that was in the general paediatrics ward last week.

Shepherd told Newshub that staff and the hospital have activated plans immediately to prevent a further outbreak of the virus and are conducting rapid antigen testing on staff and patients. 

He said with record COVID numbers - 1160 infections reported on Wednesday in New Zealand - it's not unusual or unexpected to see the hospital workforce test positive with COVID or to see more COVID cases within the hospital. 

8:27am - Air New Zealand is helping to bring in tens of millions of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to support Aotearoa's COVID response over the coming months. 

The airline is operating nine charter flights through to February 20, and Air New Zealand's General Manager Cargo Anna Palairet says there are plenty more in the works.

"Operating these charter flights was a no brainer. There is a real urgency to bring Rapid Antigen Tests into New Zealand, and we're proud to be playing our part in getting them here," Palairet  said. 

"It's truly been a fantastic team effort between Air New Zealand, Ministry of Health and the freight forwarders.

"We've been operating charters for RAT kits since December, but things are really ramping up now. 

"In addition to charters, we've also been making use of capacity on commercial flights. Where we've got space, we're using it for RATs. 

"While we are constrained by available aircraft and operating crew for charter flights, having our 777-300 back in action from last week will help to increase cargo capacity across the network.

"We know the demand is there, and our teams are doing everything they can to try and fulfil it."

Air New Zealand has seen its cargo business skyrocket over the past two years, with an estimated 200 million kilograms of product carried since 2020.

8:20am - Speaking to AM, reporter Ashleigh McCaul said it's been quiet at the protest in Wellington as gathers wake to a tenth day outside Parliament on Thursday.

She said she hasn't seen any signs of tow trucks around Parliament on Thursday morning. 

Part-time protester and former leader of the New Conservative Party Leighton Baker told Newstalk ZB a whole village had been built within two weeks.

He said that the intent of the protest was getting New Zealand working together instead of the fragmented society we have today.

There have been reports of violent behaviour by some protesters with Labour MP Steph Lewis posting on Facebook on Tuesday evening that some staff at Parliament have been "afraid to come into work" and that she had "feared" for her safety.

"Me, my colleagues, Parliament staff, the police, security staff, and passing members of the public have all been subjected to harassment and abuse from the protesters at Parliament," she wrote on Facebook.  

Baker denied witnessing any abuse or threatening behaviour and said it was the most peaceful, calm, respectful place. "It's like a big family reunion.

8:08am - Speaking to AM, reporter Nats Levi said there are reports of COVID cases at Auckland Starship children's hospital.

NZ Herald is reporting that there are 12 positive cases. 

Auckland DHB director of provider services Dr Mike Shepherd said the cases are connected to one that was in the general paediatrics ward last week.

He said the cases are a mix of staff and patients and not all of them are present and isolated in the hospital  

Shepherd told Newshub that staff and the hospital have activated plans immediately to prevent a further outbreak of the virus and are conducting rapid antigen testing on staff and patients. 

He said with record COVID numbers - 1160 infections reported on Wednesday in New Zealand - it's not unusual or unexpected to see the hospital workforce test positive with COVID or see higher numbers of cases within the hospital. 

7:35am - Four Defence Force vehicles have arrived in Wellington with the potential to help with towing anti-mandate protesters' vehicles. 

NZDF spokeswoman said discussions on the possible deployment of Defence Force assets remain ongoing, and no decisions have been made.

The four vehicles travelled to Wellington from Linton and Waiouru on Wednesday.

“They are being pre-positioned should they be required, but as stated no decisions have been made about their use to assist the towing operation,” she said.

7:25am - Hospitality businesses are crying out for help as data reveals a 30 percent drop in year on year revenues.

They say Omicron is scaring customers away and the Government's COVID-19 modelling is only making it worse.

"The foot traffic is extremely low. We just don't know when people are going to come back," Cafe Hanoi manager Krishna Botica told Newshub. 

Botica owns four restaurants and has been forced to close two. She says the two still open are struggling to get to 50 percent capacity.

In her 35 year career, she's never seen it so dire.

"All of the support from the Government has been tapped out - we've all used it. We all have to start paying it back in May. We're looking at four closures, bankruptcies. We're going to be annihilated at this rate."

Read the full story here. 

7:06am - ACT Party Leader David Seymour has defended his decision to meet with anti-mandate protesters on Wednesday saying they're part of "New Zealand and at the end of this we need to glue this country back together".

Seymour came under fire from the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday, for talking with the group, who claim to be keeping the peace.

"I think what is pretty clear is I was asked by someone that runs a business in the area who has been terribly affected, not just in the last week but the last two years and what I said to these folks is what you need to do is clear the streets because you can't complain about restrictions when you're stopping businesses from operating," Seymour told AM on Thursday. 

"The same goes with Victoria University, you've got to ensure that those more odious elements are not part of the protest because no one can support threats and so on. 

"You can't be talking about civil liberties while you're making threats of violence and then it's time for dialogue because these people are human, they're part of New Zealand, at the end of this we need to glue this country back together."

Seymour said he was asked by the Backbencher pub owner to meet with protesters so Wellingtonians and businesses can get their life back. 

"I think it's fair to say it's chaotic but I was actually asked by Alistair Boyce - who is the guy who runs the Backbencher pub - I've been listening to him throughout this ordeal, initially he had to shut his pub because his staff were abused, that was the beginning," he said. 

"He got in touch a couple of nights ago and said, 'look I want to open and get my business back', which is what everyone wants but second of all, the situation is changing, some of those more odious elements of this protest that no one can support are being pushed out. 

"I know some of these people who are emerging as the leaders of it because it's been pretty chaotic, so I was there to help a small business with the situation."

Seymour told AM he does not support the protest.

"I think it's fair to say it's possible to disagree with the nature of the protest, especially some of the stuff that happened early on, but the wider question is when does New Zealand get its way of life and freedom back and that is something I think a lot of people want an answer to," Seymour said.

"The protest is just the more concentrated forms of the frustrations people have with ongoing, often controlling cat-candid response to COVID and in that sense a lot of people have some sympathy."

Some protesters have been violent towards MPs. Labour's Steph Lewis was threatened by some of them and in a Facebook post said she "fared" for her safety at points over the last week.  

"I think the negotiations is not because of those events, it's not even a negatioion, it's actually setting some terms for what a negation would look like," Seymour told AM. 

"Some people say you shouldn't have any sort of contact. The Prime Minister says it's the wrong thing to do. Just remember she's part of the Labour Party with Trevor Mallard whose idea of dealing with a situation like this is turning on sprinklers, playing loud music and calling people names, which a lot of other people in the Government have done and the effect of that is more people have shown up. 

"Some people there I believe are protesting against the Governments response to the protest. Clearly, we want to get rid of that sort of behaviour and I think the police need to target those people more clearly. But how do you resolve the overall situation, well that's going to be a lot more challenging."

Seymour says his meeting was a vote grabbing moving saying that's a cynical way to look at it. 

"No, I think that's a very cynical way to look at a very serious situation and in any event, the poll happened after the meeting, so I don't know why you would draw that connection," he said. 

"I just hope we can look at this situation in a more mature way than most people have so far and try to get to a stage where people in the vicinity of Parliament can get their way of life back but also some of the frustration, which this protest is just the more concentrated form of what a lot of people are share can also be resolved. "

6:23am - There is 'sheer confusion' among Queenstown businesses with the Omicron outbreak and changing rules.

Queenstown's hospitality providers are calling for government support to survive the Omicron surge.

Businesses are cutting back hours and closing their doors as large numbers of staff isolate due to close contact requirements.

There are fears that without financial relief, some may not reopen. Only a week ago, Queenstown was ostensibly Covid-19 free.

Read the full story here.

6:15am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak and the Parliament protest for Thursday, February 17