Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced details of a home isolation trial for selected travellers.
Cabinet had decided the pilot would be capped at 150 people and would focus on those who needed to travel for business, Ardern said at today's post-Cabinet press conference.
Expressions of interest would open on Thursday and remain open until October 9.
Those applying would need to arrive in New Zealand between October 30 and December 8, with final travellers leaving isolation by December 22. Those taking part must be New Zealand residents.
Ardern said the scheme would be coupled with a testing and monitoring regime. It was only being offered to businesses because they had "some skin in the game".
Ardern said it was an indication of where the Government wanted to go in the future. It was also looking at shorter periods of isolation for some.
"All of this will help with the bottlenecks, which have kept our borders safe."
Self-isolation is only being considered in advance of a highly vaccinated public, she said.
The plan to reopen quarantine-free travel for RSE workers from the Pacific will start again with Vanuatu from early October, Ardern said.
All those taking part from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga would need at least one vaccine dose.
Ardern said it allowed a trial of a "pseudo" form of shortened isolation for some travellers.
RSE workers will also have to isolate for seven days on arrival, but this does not need to be done at an MIQ facility.
'We're making progress' - Bloomfield
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the seven-day rolling average of Covid cases in NZ is now 15, compared with 17 last week and 19 the week before.
"We are making progress. Many of our clusters are now considered to be contained, or clusters are dormant," Bloomfield said.
There are only four active sub-clusters.
He said the young age profile of the cases had resulted in relatively low hospitalisation rates.
The test positivity rate was 0.2 per cent over the last seven days. "These are encouraging signs."
However, Bloomfield said Delta posed a significant risk. Around 2 per cent of people with Delta would die, and 6 per cent require hospitalisation - twice the rates of the Alpha variant.
He said the modelling from Shaun Hendy emphasised that the higher the vaccination rates, the lower the deaths and hospitalisations, and the less the need for restrictions.
"The pathway forward for each country needs to be travelled with care and thought." He said moving forward too soon put the unvaccinated and immune-compromised at risk.
Asked about a steady uptick in exposure cases over recent days, Bloomfield said it was to be expected given more people were out and about in level 3.
Level 3 is designed to restrict movement, and people need to keep that in mind, Bloomfield said.
While he wouldn't pre-empt next week's decision on shifting alert levels, Bloomfield said Auckland was heading in the "right direction".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "one of the biggest issues is still whether or not people maintain their bubbles".
"That's where we've often seen some transmission, although limited."
Asked whether restrictions could flow through into Christmas, Ardern said it's important to have a "contained outbreak" while easing rules "in a way that allows us to achieve that goal".
She said she could envisage a "classic Kiwi summer" this year - "I can see us experiencing that. We did last summer."
Govt 'exploring' vaccine certificates
Meanwhile, there were 12 new Covid cases in the community announced today.
All of the cases are in Auckland and two of today's have yet to be linked to existing cases, the Ministry of Health said. All cases were in isolation or MIQ through their infectious period.
However, of yesterday's cases, 10 had been infectious in the community.
Thirteen people with Covid-19 are in hospital - four in ICU or a high-dependency unit.
There were 6906 tests conducted in the last 24 hours.
Over the weekend, the vaccination campaign passed five million doses, while slowing considerably.
Just 24,710 jabs were administered on Sunday, including an alarming 8182 first jabs.
The daily figure was less than a third of the peak daily rate at the end of August.
On the vaccine uptake, Ardern praised Auckland for getting up to 83 per cent so far.
Now we need to look at "pulling every lever" to get the final push in, she said.
The Government is exploring vaccine certificates, she said. "We're actively considering it. We will be consulting with those in the sectors" most impacted by it.
"Decisions will be made well in time before those summer festivals."
Ardern said she sees vaccine certificates as a carrot, not a stick. Events are less likely to be disrupted at the last minute, she said.
The Government was still seeking legal advice about what it could do with certificates.
Door-to-door Covid testing had been done in at least two Auckland suburbs where there have been outbreaks, Ardern said.
Health officials were looking at how to integrate wider testing options into the regular testing regime. "We are using and proposing to use antigen testing as part of our border work," the PM said.
It is also being used at Middlemore, she said.
Ardern responded to news that a shipment of kiwifruit from New Zealand supposedly tested positive for Covid-19 in China.
She said the timing wasn't right - the fruit was sent a month before the outbreak here. Also, it was picked up at market rather than storage.
"I've visited some of these processing and packhouses. They're very, very stringent."
Ardern wouldn't go as far as saying China had another reason for pointing a finger at New Zealand.
Visas for Afghan allies
Ardern said she has asked officials to assess visas that have been approved for people still in Afghanistan.
She hopes to share more details later this week. "There are a number of people who are not in country yet."
Ardern said the Government will release its decision on interest deductibility tomorrow, as part of measures to stabilise the housing market.
Listen to epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker's thoughts on home isolation in the latest episode of On the Tiles