Almost half a million of our youngest Kiwis will become eligible for vaccination against Covid-19 tomorrow, as the high jab rate in the adult population continues to keep a lid on the spread of a virus that has killed 5.52 million worldwide.
There were 29 new cases of Covid-19 in the community yesterday, with the Lakes District Health Board area reporting the highest number of cases, at 14, according to the Ministry of Health.
Eleven of the new cases were in Auckland, two in Northland and one each in Bay of Plenty and Wellington.
Just over 15,100 tests were done, slightly above the seven-day daily average of 14,918.
Twenty-nine people are in hospital, including two in intensive care or high dependency units, and all but four of those sick are in Auckland hospitals.
Just over 29 per cent of those in Auckland hospitals are unvaccinated, 33.3 per cent partly vaccinated and 33.3 per cent fully vaccinated, with one person's vaccination status unknown, the ministry said.
The average age of those in hospital is 47.
There were some concerning positive tests - an Auckland resthome caregiver tested positive to Covid-19 - variant as yet unknown - leading to the closure yesterday of the Ivan Ward Centre at Selwyn Village in Pt Chevalier. Residents and staff are being tested.
The worker was asymptomatic.
And an MIQ worker, understood to be from Stamford Plaza Hotel, returned a positive Covid-19 result late Friday afternoon as part of surveillance testing.
The worker is now in isolation and household contacts have all returned negative tests.
Whole genome sequencing was expected to identify the variant today.
Border restrictions originally due to begin relaxing from tomorrow instead remain in place until at least late next month in a bid to delay the arrival of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which has led to infections skyrocketing overseas, including Australia where the rolling seven-day average of new infections is now almost 90,000 per day.
Infections detected at the border far outpaced community infections on Friday - with 43 border cases compared to 18 in the community. All border cases are treated as Omicron until otherwise identified.
Yesterday, fewer cases were identified at the border - 25 - five below the seven-day rolling average for border cases of 30. The seven-day rolling average for community cases is 25.
The Omicron variant has spread widely in part because of its ability to sidestep vaccine protection.
Two doses of the current Covid-19 vaccine offer "very limited protection, if any" from Omicron, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bouria told Yahoo Finance.
However, two doses of the vaccine - which has been almost exclusively used in New Zealand - plus a booster offered "reasonable protection" against hospitalisation and death, he said.
The pharmaceutical company will offer an Omicron-specific version of the vaccine by March.
Booster shots in New Zealand are now available for those aged 18 and over who received their second dose at least four months ago.
On Friday, 40,880 booster doses were given, along with 1459 first doses, 3334 second doses and 589 third primary doses for severely immunocompromised people.
The percentage of over 12s now double-dosed in New Zealand is 92.5 per cent, and 17.9 per cent of the eligible population have received their booster. Eighty-three per cent of eligible Māori have received at least two jabs.
The Government's decision to offer the Pfizer vaccine to children aged between 5 and 11 means as of tomorrow 476,000 kids can get their first dose. The paediatric dose is lower than that given to over 12s and the two doses would be spaced eight weeks apart.
But children who get their version of the vaccine will not have to carry vaccine passes for entry into certain locations, as adults currently do.
Under the Government's Covid-19 traffic light system, children under the age of 12 years and 3 months do not have to show proof of vaccination.