National Party leader Christopher Luxon says he broadly supports the decisions the Government had announced today regarding Covid-19.
Masks and RAT tests will now be made available for free and anti-viral drugs - which help keep Covid patients out of hospitals - will be offered to an estimated 400,000 people.
"The thing I would like to see added would be the addition of a fourth booster being available to anybody who wants it essentially," Luxon said in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.
"In Australia, if you are 30 or older, you have access to that booster, but we support broadly the proposals that have been put forward."
He said the state of the health system was a bigger issue.
"We have a system that is 4000 nurses short, 1500 doctors short and 1500 hospital specialists short, and when you see New Zealanders waiting in a leaking tent in heavy rain trying to get into a hospital, then that's not good enough."
Luxon also reiterated his view that the traffic light system was too complex and hard for people to understand.
"What we need is some very simple rules on masking and isolation and encouraging people to get that fourth booster."
He welcomed the availability of anti-virals and said he would like to see them made more widely available.
"Over the last six months, many countries have had those anti-virals available to more of their whole population and they've been very effective."
He said he did not feel more regulation was needed on, in particular, mask-wearing.
"Kiwis just need some basic direction and they will follow the guidelines pretty well."
Covid-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall briefed reporters today alongside the director-general of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and new Health NZ chief executive Margie Apa.
There are 11,382 new Covid cases reported today and 23 virus-related deaths.
One of the deaths reported today was a child aged 10 and under. The 23 deaths with the virus occurred in the past week.
Verrall said NZ would remain at the orange traffic light setting. The Government had weighed up whether moving to red would make a significant difference, but gathering limits would only offer "an incremental benefit".
Wearing a mask, getting boosted and staying home if sick were more effective tactics than a return to the red setting, she said.
Verrall said she did not think a lockdown was needed for this variant, noting that the effectiveness of lockdowns tended to abate the more you used them.
Free masks and RATS tests to be made available
Free masks and rapid antigen tests (RATS) would be offered at collection sites, Verrall said.
People would no longer have to meet the criteria of having Covid symptoms or being a household contact or a critical worker.
However, she said people should still book in for RAT collection, to ensure there was enough stock.
The country currently had 100 million RAT tests.
The Government is also providing 10 million child-size masks available for year 4-7 students in New Zealand and up to 30,000 masks a week for all other students and school staff.
Verrall said if schools took up the support of free masks in the next term, it would make a difference: "Please use it."
A new campaign to try to push along the boosters campaign would also be run.
"For those who contract Covid-19, we want to see anti-virals used more widely."
An estimated 400,000 people would be eligible for anti-viral drugs.
These helped to stop people from requiring hospital care. She said many accessed them through GPs. She encouraged GPs to identify people in their care who were most at-risk, and be ready to prescribe them if that person tested positive.
Pharmac would today announce new eligibility criteria for the anti-viral drugs - anyone over 57 years of age would be eligible, Verrall said.
The expanded criteria will increase the percentage of eligible people for the anti-viral drugs from 2 per cent to 10 per cent.
People who were eligible would also be texted, so they knew to go for the anti-virals if they were unwell.
"These measures are the most effective measures we have," Verrall said.
"They are simple, but if we all do them we can lessen the burdens on the health system."
One of the anti-viral drugs, Paxlovid, reduces the likelihood of an at-risk person going to hospital by almost 90 per cent, Verrall said.
More than half the people newly admitted to hospital yesterday were 70 or older.
Verrall said friends in the health system had told her of the struggle in coping with demand - she said that pressure carried clinical risk, and was difficult for those working in the sector.
Asked why it had taken so long to get to this point, Verrall said many of the steps were already in place but needed more emphasis - for example she said while anti-virals were available, the use of them had not increased when case numbers went up.
Bloomfield said stocks of RATs and masks were very good - widening access was doable "and we'd rather have these things being used than sitting on the shelves."
He said the RATs were not there for businesses providing tests for staff, but for people and families who needed the tests.
The most important were household contacts testing, while people might also want to test before going to see an elderly relative.
Cases could peak at 21,000 a day: Bloomfield
Bloomfield said health officials had been asked to have another look at the red traffic light settings to see - if they were deployed - they would be effective.
The current situation was that with more open borders, and more cases being detected at our border, the number of cases has increased week on week.
Cases were expected to peak at 21,000 cases a day - and hospitalisations were expected to peak at more than 1000.
Modelling suggested Covid infection rates were going up around the country - unlike the first wave, when Auckland had been first to go. The current wave was expected to peak in the second half of July.
Bloomfield said measures could be used to try to bring down those numbers to below 1000. "We anticipated second wave of Omicron, we've planned for it. The public health measures in place and the actions of us all will be what makes the difference here."
Correctly wearing a surgical or N95 mask could reduce the risk of infection by about half.
He urged those who were not wearing masks because they were uncomfortable to think of health workers, who had to wear them day in and day out.
Asked what his recommendation for mask use was, Bloomfield said it was the one that had been picked up. There had been a drop-off in mask use in the places where they were mandated - such as shops and on transport - and people were urged to wear them again.
The general rule of thumb was that people should wear masks in any indoor setting that was not their own home.
"Mask-wearing should be like wearing a seatbelt. That's why we still have an order requiring people to wear them in some indoor environments, and we are encouraging people to wear them in other indoor environments," he said.
He said the latter included schools.
"Am I confident people will listen and follow through on the messaging? I am. It's important again people re-commit. We are not through this yet."
People should also still be testing and follow the isolation rules. People should also get their flu and Covid-19 booster vaccinations.
The six-month interval for boosters was under close watch.
"My plea to you, to everybody in New Zealand, is to please do you bit."
The BA.5 variant was better at evading immunity, Bloomfield said.
"That is important for people who have been infected previously."
According to the latest data, the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron accounted for 41 per cent of cases, BA.4 amounted to 11 per cent and BA.5 47 per cent. BA.5 is expected to become the dominant variant.
Only 2-3 per cent of cases now were those who had been re-infected, but he was expecting that to increase.
He said he expected only about half the number of actual cases were being detected.
The rolling seven-day average for community cases is now 9826.
Health staff prioritising urgent care
Health NZ chief executive Margie Apa said they were closely monitoring the impact on the health system.
The workforce was facing high demand in hospitals as well as primary care.
The health sector was also battling with worker shortages due to sickness among staff, which meant longer waits than were desirable.
Apa said they were working regionally to try to prioritise urgent care, while also trying to keep non-urgent surgery and procedures going. She said it was not an ideal situation but "we ask for some patience from our communities."
Urban and metro hospitals were especially hard hit by staff being sick. Health NZ was working on ways to offer more virtual or telephone health services.
There were also efforts to allow more after-hours help.
Apa said this week some hospitals had found more than 200 people were reporting in sick in any one day.
On winter illness, there were 38 people in Auckland and Counties Manukau hospitals for SARI illnesses (severe acute respiratory infections), since the Ministry of Health's last update on Thursday last week. Of those people, Covid-19 was the cause of the infection for 18 per cent and influenza was the cause for 32 per cent.
Other causes of infection were rhinoviruses and enteroviruses (39 per cent).
SARI-associated influenza hospitalisation is the highest in the past 10 years.
However, the current rate of SARI hospitalisations in Auckland and Counties Manukau is in line with rates seen in recent years, according to the ministry.