The managed isolation system at New Zealand's border is being dismantled for fully vaccinated Kiwis and travellers who will be able to bypass it from early next year.
It comes as officials announced there are 215 Covid-19 cases today. Today's cases mean the number of Delta outbreak infections has now surpassed 5000.
One hundred and eighty-one cases are in Auckland, 18 in Waikato and three are in Northland.
Eighty-seven people are in hospital with the virus, all in Auckland, apart from two.
On vaccination status of those who had died with Covid, of the 15 deaths, 10 were unvaxxed, two had had one dose and three were fully vaccinated, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.
As vaccination rates rise, so will cases, hospitalisations and deaths among the vaccinated, Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield emphasised that a number of people hospitalised in the outbreak were children under 12.
Forty-one people have died with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Fifteen people have died in the Delta outbreak. Bloomfield didn't have ethnicity detail regarding the 15 deaths.
People who would travel from overseas don't have to stay close to an airport, they would be able to travel to wherever they want to isolate.
No more MIQ for vaxed Kiwis
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said from next year it will be easier for fully vaccinated Kiwis to return to New Zealand. They will still need to isolate at home for seven days, he said. The self-isolation requirement will only be maintained while it is needed, based on public health advice.
From January 17 next year, fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to travel from Australia without having to go through MIQ, Hipkins said.
If you're a dependant of someone who is eligible to travel, you would be able to travel with them from mid January in Australia.
From February 13, fully vaccinated Kiwis can travel from all over countries, Hipkins said.
From the end of April, all other fully vaccinated travellers can come into NZ without needing to go into MIQ.
Travel in 2022 won't be the same as pre-2020, Hipkins warned.
All travellers will require a negative test, proof of vaccination and declaration they haven't been in very high-risk countries. They will also require regular testing after they have arrived.
A phased approach to reconnecting NZ to the world was the safest approach to protect vulnerable communities and the health system, Hipkins said
The three steps constitute a new "medium risk pathway".
Those which don't fit this pathway will go through MIQ for seven days and then self-isolation for three days.
On very high-risk countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Brazil can travel to New Zealand.
Papua New Guinea is still under the very high-risk classification.
The public health risk assessments for countries in the very high risk category for travel was ongoing.
Advice had been supplied for a little while now, Hipkins said and it was determined today that an announcement can be made for the aforementioned four countries.
The classification process involved many factors which were assessed by the public health teams.
On not allowing people to come back from Aussie before Christmas, Hipkins said this was about easing restrictions in a safe way.
He referenced Auckland's shift to the traffic light system and then the dropping of the boundary around the city, both of which would open up the country to risk.
"We want to stay in that strong position as much as we can," Hipkins said on the good impact vaccination had had on case numbers in Auckland
The Government's approach was about progressively managing risk and not opening up multiple pathways for risk.
Hipkins said he understood the trauma some families were going through with these restrictions but wouldn't comment if any of his family were impacted.
Bloomfield said the risk of vaccinated people coming into the country was looked into carefully and there had been agreement with experts that there was still risk
Each one of those travellers could start its own outbreak, Bloomfield said.
It was important to bed in the processes around travel for Aucklanders domestically before opening up to overseas travellers more, Bloomfield said.
On rapid antigen testing, Hipkins said it would play a larger use over the summer, especially for overseas travel as part of pre-departure testing requirements
As such, that would mean people were tested much closer to their flight than is already being done.
The situation around international students coming to NZ would be under review as there could be bespoke arrangements made for that group, Hipkins said.
Hipkins said the self-isolation trial for businesses had partially informed the decisions made today.
Hipkins rejected the idea that international tourism had been kicked down the road for more than six months, he said it would depend on the nature of the outbreak and how self-isolation evolved.
Bloomfield said each of the cases we would get from overseas if we let travellers in, it would be the opportunity to start a new outbreak anywhere in the country. It was estimated NZ would see 60 more positive cases each week
The modelling one expert had done had predicted a higher R value of these travellers of between 5-6.
Hipkins said the best response for Māori communities was a relentless approach to get vaccination levels up in those communities, which he thought the Govt was doing currently.
On the transtasman bubble and asked whether it was completely gone, Hipkins said moves were being made to reopen the border but accepted that the bubble doesn't exist because it was functioning when there was no Covid in NZ or Australia
Feedback from airlines indicated that changing requirements were very hard to follow so the Govt wanted to keep things consistent.
Vaccination certificate overload
The online system to get a vaccination certificate was working well after early hiccups, Hipkins said.
As for the 0800 number, there were some issues yesterday relating to volume of calls but he had been told that issue had been fixed as of last night.
On police vaccinations, Hipkins said the relevant ministers would be making further comment this week.
On the traffic light system, Bloomfield said businesses could choose to use the verifier app to check vaccination certificates.
However, it was not compulsory and they could simply visually check those certificates
The Ministry of Health website reportedly says it would be required to use the app but Bloomfield said that advice had since been updated.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said more guidance on the traffic lights system was due this week, including advice specific to sectors such as retail, schools and sporting events.
Hipkins and Bloomfield will host a press conference from the Beehive at 1pm, which you can watch live here.
From tomorrow hairdressers in Auckland can reopen using appointments to trial the new vaccination certificate system.
All staff must be vaccinated, and they can only accept vaccinated customers.
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Meanwhile, an increasing number of primary school-aged children and younger are contracting Covid, as the total number of active cases in this country's Delta outbreak approaches 5000.
There are 4828 active cases of Covid in New Zealand - and 36 per cent of them are aged 19 or under.
Close to one in five - 18.5 per cent - of cases are in children 9 years old or younger, up from 12.7 per cent at the start of September.
Parliament is sitting in urgency to rush through the law changes needed to allow businesses to implement the vaccines certificate system.
That law change includes allowing businesses to require staff to get vaccinated if they work in roles where they interact with the public.
Workplaces considered high-risk include hospitality, events, gatherings, close contact businesses and gyms - mandates are expected to cover about 40 per cent of the workforce overall.
Ministers have also signalled that more details on the easing of international borders and MIQ requirements are expected soon. Hipkins and the PM have dampened down any expectation of changes ahead of Christmas, saying easing will be done in progressive steps from the first three months of next year.
Hipkins told RNZ yesterday that while the transtasman bubble was not likely to resume in the same form as before, he would expect to see a lot more travel between the two countries from next year.
On Monday, Ardern announced the country would move to the traffic light system on December 3.
Auckland will start off at the most restricted "red" setting, because of the ongoing community outbreak. The settings for most other regions will not be announced until November 29, when Cabinet reviews vaccination rates.
Ardern has promised Cabinet would be "pragmatic" if a region's rates of fully vaccinated people were getting close to the 90 per cent mark but it was likely lower vaccinated regions, especially if they were also summer hotspots, would be at red.
Details on what it will take for Auckland to move from red to orange were not likely this week.
Hipkins told RNZ that the Government would look at case numbers, rate of hospitalisation, contact tracing capability, and the nature of communities the cases are in.
More details will be revealed next week.
"At this point, when we move to red it opens things up quite substantially in Auckland, and we do have to be aware that with that opening up comes additional risk. So we need to see what that does in terms of transmission and so on.
"What we don't want to do is get to the point where we move too fast and end up with an outbreak that we then couldn't get back under control."
Cases were at a "manageable level", and needed to stay that way, Hipkins said.