New Zealand will stay at the orange traffic light setting as 7432 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today - along with 19 deaths.
Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall said the country needed to remain at the orange setting as Covid case numbers were starting to "creep up".
Today the Government also made changes to reinfection advice. Anyone who experienced symptoms 29 days or longer after a previous infection must test and isolate if they return a positive result.
"Moving back to red is unnecessary at the moment. We can continue to manage the virus at orange, but are putting in place a range of additional measures to help manage a recent rise in cases," Verrall said.
But with hospitals under pressure from flu and Covid and numbers starting to creep up again a suite of additional measures were being put in place to help reduce spread, she said.
The Government also announced 50 child-sized masks would be made available to every Year 4-7 pupil in New Zealand.
An additional 20,000-30,000 masks a week would be provided to all other students and school staff. Extra funding would be made available to schools and early childhood services to support better ventilation over the winter months.
"Getting vaccinated is the number one thing New Zealanders can do to help relieve pressure on our health system this winter. We are seeing an overrepresentation of unvaccinated people in hospital admissions so we strongly urge everyone to make sure they are up to date with their vaccines.
"We are also updating our advice around reinfection and are now asking anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms 29 days or longer following their initial infection to test. Should they test positive they will need to isolate for seven days.
"This is a change from earlier advice which was that people would not need to retest if they had tested positive for Covid-19 within the past 90 days and is based on the latest international evidence and the need to isolate quickly people with reinfections.
"However household contacts who have had Covid-19 within 90 days won't need to isolate, unless they are symptomatic. There is clear updated advice on what they should do to reduce risks to themselves and others. "
Verrall said while reinfections were low at the moment they were likely to increase.
"The BA.5 variant of Omicron is predicted to become the dominant strain in the country in the coming weeks and is a different variant to what most New Zealanders caught the first time around.
"With these measures, alongside additional support in schools and early childhood services, the Government is stepping up our response to help reduce the spread of Covid. We always said this was going to be a challenging winter and we need everyone to play their part to help us get through safely."
Schools, early learning sector react to new measures
Two school principals have welcomed the promise of more free air purifiers and extra funding for electricity costs over winter.
David Grant, principal of Big Rock Primary School in Dunedin, said electricity bills had "absolutely" gone up due to Covid.
Ventilating classrooms by leaving windows open a crack was very difficult to manage over winter in the south, where a particularly cold blast had seen the temperature drop to -7C.
"It's pretty hard to heat classrooms even with windows closed," Grant said.
Heat pumps had frozen up, and children tended to leave doors open which quickly lost heat out of the classroom.
He believed the only solution was putting an air purifier in every classroom. Big Rock had requested six but had only received three so far - based on today's announcement, Grant would be ordering more for the remaining classrooms.
Karl Vasau, principal of Roscommon Primary School in Manurewa, was also planning to order enough air purifiers for all 28 classrooms.
He was hopeful the measures would have some impact on the flu, which was having a "huge effect" on teachers, pupils and their families.
But both Grant and Vasau were less excited about getting more masks for primary-aged kids - saying they already had plenty available and they were proving detrimental to teaching and learning.
"I wear mine religiously and our staff wear theirs religiously to protect themselves and students," Vasau said.
"But more than ever we're finding that not being able to see teachers' faces really does affect communication, connections and relationships, especially for second-language learners, and being able to be heard - not just those with hearing difficulties but for all our children."
The Early Childhood Council has also welcomed the extra funding for power costs and CO2 monitors, which it said would help reassure parents that early learning centres were safe for kids.
"Air quality is on everyone's minds with Covid-19 and the flu in many communities," council chief executive Simon Laube said.
"In the future, support provided to schools must at least be considered for early learning centres from the start. If something's necessary for school children's health, then why exclude our vulnerable younger children? We really should put them first."
He also wanted changes made to new regulations that say early learning centres must have a minimum temperature of 18C. That was difficult to manage when opening a window even briefly for ventilation could see the temperature fall and the centre become non-compliant, Laube said.
Further 19 deaths, hospitalisations up
The Ministry of Health reported a further 19 deaths of people with Covid-19 today.
These deaths had occurred in the past seven days.
There are 411 cases in hospitals across the country, including six people receiving intensive care treatment.
Two people whose deaths were reported today were in their 50s, three were in their 60s, one was in their 70s, six were in their 80s and seven were aged over 90.
"This is a very sad time for whānau and friends and our thoughts and condolences are with them. Out of respect, we will be making no further comment on these deaths."
Two of these people were from Northland, three were from Auckland, three were from Waikato, one was from Bay of Plenty, one was from Hawke's Bay, two were from Wellington, one was from Nelson-Marlborough, four were from Canterbury and two people were from the Southern region.
The total number of reported deaths with Covid-19 is now 1522. The seven-day rolling average is 13.
Meanwhile, the seven-day rolling average of community cases is 6114.
The seven-day rolling average of community cases at the same time last week was 4817.
The ministry has included a number of new indices in today's update.
The seven-day rolling average of Covid-19 hospitalisations is 363. This time last week it was 353.
The locations of today's 411 hospitalised cases are: Northland (four), Waitematā (88), Counties Manukau (38), Auckland (58), Waikato (30), Bay of Plenty (nine), Lakes (19), Tairāwhiti (one), Hawke's Bay (11), Taranaki (10), Whanganui (two), MidCentral (19), Wairarapa (six), Hutt Valley (13), Capital and Coast (27), Nelson Marlborough (13), Canterbury (35), South Canterbury (two), West Coast (two) and the Southern region (24).
The average age of hospitalised cases is 63.
The ministry also included a winter illness update in its statement, which said of the 68 people in Auckland and Counties Manukau hospitals for Sari illnesses (severe acute respiratory infection) Covid-19 was the cause of infection in 12.7 per cent of cases and influenza was the cause in 68.4 per cent.
Other causes of infection were rhinoviruses and enteroviruses (15 per cent).
"The current rate of hospitalisations in Auckland and Counties Manukau is in line with rates seen in recent years."
There are 42,782 active community cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today.
Two hundred and six of the new reported cases had recently travelled overseas, the ministry said.
Of the new admissions to hospital, 49 Covid-19 cases were either unvaccinated or not eligible for vaccination; four cases were partially immunised less than seven days from a second dose or had only received one dose; 60 cases were double vaccinated at least seven days before being reported as a case; and 207 cases had received a booster at least seven days before being reported as a case.