New Zealanders who have been fully vaccinated for more than six months will be able to receive their booster vaccination from today as cases continue to spread across the country.
It comes two cases of the new Omicron variant were announced in Australia last night after Genomic testing confirmed two recent arrivals into Sydney were infected with the new strain.
A total 144 new Covid community cases were recorded yesterday, spread across Auckland, Waikato, Northland, Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay.
While the priority is still getting people vaccinated, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said booster vaccines will now be available for anyone who received both vaccine doses more than six months ago.
"We're particularly keen to make sure our healthcare and border workers – who are most at risk of coming in contact with Covid-19, and older people including kaumātua and those in residential care are aware that boosters are available from Monday, and that they're eligible if they completed their course of Pfizer more than six months ago."
Bloomfield said work is under way to ensure the booster shots will be available the same way the initial two shots are available.
Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, which runs the vaccine rollout on behalf of Auckland DHBs, will start the booster rollout at aged residential care facilities this week at Kenderdine Park Rest Home in Papatoetoe.
Bay of Plenty DHB hopes to administer around 2000 booster doses by Christmas, while Southern DHB is working alongside local Māori and Pasifika providers to ensure over 65s receive their booster dose.
"There's no need to rush to get the booster. The science shows fully vaccinated people remain really well protected from infection, and from being seriously ill if they do get Covid-19. There is plenty of existing stock of the Pfizer vaccine in New Zealand and this will not run out.
"And while the booster programme is an important next step in our pandemic response, increasing the vaccination coverage of first and second doses, particularly for Māori, Pacific and disabled communities, remains our number one priority in our nationwide vaccination rollout, particularly with Covid in the community and as new strains emerge," said Dr Bloomfield.
People who have received their vaccine overseas will be able to receive a booster shot in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, a person in their 80s who was admitted to North Shore Hospital last Thursday died of the virus on Saturday night. This brings the death toll to 43 since the virus hit the country last year.
Christchurch also recorded a new case of Covid-19 however it is classified as a border case.
The case is a child who travelled from London to Doha in Qatar on November 16, and from Doha to Auckland on November 18.
International arrivals must spend seven days in MIQ. After that, they must self-isolate until a negative day 9 Covid-19 test is returned.
"They left managed isolation last week and tested positive on their Day 9 test while in home quarantine," the ministry said.
The child flew from Auckland to Christchurch on Thursday on Air NZ Flight NZ8475, arriving in Christchurch at 10.50am. The child is isolating at home with family.
Under current rules for travellers, a person can use public transport, including domestic flights, when moving from MIQ facilities to home isolation.
Meanwhile, the ministry said health officials were continuing to assess the latest international information on the new B.1.1529 variant, which the World Health Organisation has named Omicron.
Britain has tightened its international border and mask-wearing requirements after two Omicron cases were detected there, and in Australia it is feared passengers on board a flight into Sydney from southern Africa, who tested positive, could be infected with the variant.
The first South African doctor to alert the authorities about patients with the Omicron variant told The Telegraph that the symptoms of the new variant are unusual but mild.
Dr Angelique Coetzee said she was first alerted to the possibility of a new variant when patients in her busy private practice in the capital Pretoria started to come in earlier this month with Covid-19 symptoms that did not make immediate sense.
They included young people of different backgrounds and ethnicities with intense fatigue and a 6-year-old child with a very high pulse rate, she said. None suffered from a loss of taste or smell.
Massey University professor Nigel French told RNZ not much was known about Omicron yet, but he was optimistic vaccines may still protect against the new variant.
"There's no evidence to date to suggest that vaccination, particularly if you've had two doses, would not protect against this new variant or any other new variant, but we just don't know," he said.
New Zealand has restricted travel for people from nine southern African countries, which were being added to the very high-risk countries list - South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
It means only Kiwi citizens can travel to New Zealand from those countries and will have to stay a full 14 days in MIQ and undergo testing.