Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rules out COVID-19 lockdown in event of Omicron outbreak

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out lockdowns in the event of an Omicron outbreak, but all of New Zealand would move into the 'red' traffic light within 24-48 hours. 

"It is important to remember that red does not mean lockdowns or regional boundaries, and businesses remain open. What it does mean is immediately increasing our use of masks, changing the way we interact in hospitality and reducing gathering sizes in order to slow Omicron down."

Ardern made the announcement on Thursday ahead of her COVID-19 press conference at Labour's caucus retreat in New Plymouth. 

Northland, the only region kept under the more restrictive 'red' rules due to its relatively low vaccination rate, will now join the rest of the country 'orange' on Friday, Ardern said. 

"Vaccination rates have continued to increase in Northland and are now at 89 percent first dose. The easing of the Auckland boundary over summer did not drive an increase in cases so we believe it is safe for Northland to join the rest of the country at orange."

Ardern said planning was "well advanced" for an Omicron outbreak, with new case management, close contact definition and testing rules fit for purpose for Omicron being finalised, as well as plans to support the business continuity.

Two COVID-infected people have been confirmed to have the Omicron variant in Auckland - a household contact of the initial managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) worker, and a triple-vaccinated staffer at Auckland Airport.

Two more people have tested positive for the highly infectious Omicron variant in Auckland - a household contact of the initial case, who is a worker at a managed isolation and quarantine facility, and a triple-vaccinated staffer at Auckland Airport.

A person has also tested positive for COVID-19 in Manawatū-Whanganui, the region's first case since November.

Several new high-risk exposure events have been identified in Auckland, including three popular nightclubs. A cafe in Half Moon Bay was also visited by one of the latest Omicron cases on Tuesday.