The number of positive Covid-19 cases continues to hold steady less than a week away from Aucklanders seeing social norms return after more than 100 days in lockdown.
There were 173 new community cases announced yesterday, slightly less than the seven-day rolling average of 187.
Over the past two weeks, daily case numbers have remained under 230, with public health efforts evidently staving off an exponential growth in infections - something experts have welcomed as promising.
The public health response will be tested from this time next week after the country moves to the new Covid-19 Protection Framework - the traffic light system - from Friday.
Crucially for Aucklanders, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the shift would be the end to more than 100 days in alert level 3 or 4 lockdown, with the city's hospitality sector able to reopen and gathering limits relaxed.
Hospitalisations have also been consistent: 78 people with the virus are receiving hospital care, 75 in Auckland and three in Waikato.
It comes as friends paid tribute to New Zealand's 41st Covid-related death - Auckland rugby league stalwart Peter Griffiths, who died after battling the virus in Auckland City Hospital since November 17.
Mt Albert Rugby League committee member Mark McCleay said losing Griffiths this week to the virus was surreal, and friends were still coming to terms with the news.
"It's surreal. I'm still coming to grips with him leaving us," he said.
"I thought he was the type of person that would have been able to fight it and come through because he was relatively healthy reffing and coaching.
"I don't think we can be complacent or underestimate the effects that Covid can have, especially if you're not vaccinated."
He said Griffiths contributed at Mt Albert Rugby League for a number of decades from playing in the early days, to managing and coaching teams and becoming a referee.
Auckland Rugby League also paid tribute, saying because of Griffiths' significant involvement across the game, the loss was being felt well beyond his Mt Albert club and throughout the entire rugby league community.
Nationally, 92 per cent of Kiwis are partially vaccinated, 85 per cent are double-dosed. The levels are good for Pasifika (90/80) but for Māori, they are still low (81/66).
Yesterday, the Government confirmed a vaccine mandate would be extended to many police and all Defence Force employees.
Vaccines will be obligatory for all police sworn members, recruits and authorised officers.
Those included in the mandate must get their first dose by January 17, and the second by March 1.
Police commissioner Andrew Coster said 92 per cent of police staff had had one vaccine dose, while almost 87 per cent were fully vaccinated.
"In today's environment, the community has an expectation that our staff are protected from the virus and are fully vaccinated," Coster said.
"Our work does not always allow us to stay at arm's length from the people we deal with and vaccination is the only control that can mitigate the safety risk in those situations."
Overseas, concern was growing about a potentially more transmissible Covid-19 variant emerging in Southern Africa.
In response to the B.1.1.529 variant, British authorities had banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.
The UK clampdown comes soon after New Zealand removed five countries - Indonesia, Fiji, India, Pakistan and Brazil - from the "very high-risk" countries category.
At yesterday's 1pm press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the new variant was a good example of the need to be cautious, but there was no reason at this point to be alarmed about the variant, and there was no evidence it was in New Zealand.
He noted the WHO was meeting last night to assess it, and the Government was keeping a close watch.
A travel ban on countries where the variant was present would depend on public health advice.
"If we need to take action, we will," he said.
Robertson said there was only speculation at the moment about the new variant being more resistant to vaccines.
"That's why we'll listen to the WHO and others."