* 'Logistical nightmare': Auckland hairdressers scrambling after three-month lockdown
* 'Significant surge': DHB seeks 133 new staff to cope with Covid
* Explainer: Life for the vaccinated and unvaccinated under the traffic light system
* Grounded: 1000 Air NZ transtasman flights cancelled by lack of progress on border
* Positive Covid-19 case visited Tauranga retirement village
* Derek Cheng: Why we shouldn't get too excited about the Auckland outbreak hitting a peak
Aotearoa will enter a new phase of its Covid journey on December 3, moving into the new traffic light system in the "best possible position", according to the country's top health official.
Auckland, still experiencing a significant outbreak, will go straight into the top red setting, while the rest of the country's fate will be determined by Cabinet next Monday - a decision largely to weigh on where vaccination rates stand.
Auckland will also see a trial run of the new vaccination pass system from Thursday at hairdressers.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB today that the verification app to record vaccine passes would be out in the next 24 to 48 hours.
The app had been stress-tested and part of it is that they have to use the app stores where they are downloaded from.
Robertson conceded the app may not be 100 per cent perfect but it would give them a chance to have a look at it before December 3.
They were using hairdressing rather than hospitality because that industry involved a smaller number of people.
As for what's opening didn't make sense, Robertson said lines had to be drawn at some stage and he wouldn't draw a line between hairdressers and beauticians, hairdressing was the one that was chosen in line with public health advice.
There were 195,000 Kiwis now eligible for their second vaccine dose.
Asked why the Government wasn't revealing the vaccination status of those who died, Robertson said there had been so few deaths up until now but he agreed they were
"probably" getting to the situation where they needed more information but said the Ministry of Health protected and kept all information quite close to its chest.
However the majority of Covid cases in hospital were unvaccinated, he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, flanked by director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, made the announcements on Monday with a sense of optimism, despite 205 community cases reported earlier - the fourth-highest daily total.
The positive thinking was rooted in the fact case numbers have started to plateau, despite restrictions in Auckland relaxing nearly two weeks ago, and all school age groups returning last week.
The R value, rate of reproduction, was back down to about 1 - meaning each person was infecting only about one other person, so avoiding exponential growth.
The small pockets of Covid-19 cases around the country had remained relatively contained, indicating vaccinations, current restrictions and contact tracing were all working together against the virus.
"We are going into this next phase in one could argue the best possible position," Bloomfield said.
"We have got a controlled outbreak, we are going into summer and we have got high and still increasing vaccination rates. That is as good a position I would have hoped we'd be in."
Ardern said they were announcing the date to give businesses time to prepare.
The announcement has been welcomed, particularly by the hospitality industry.
"After months of closure, a set date for the reopening of hospitality in Auckland is welcome and long overdue," Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois said.
However, she questioned why it was still 11 days away and why they were still not equipped to handle the new vaccine pass system.
Hospitality New Zealand chief Julie White said today that despite the December 3 date given to hospitality businesses to open up again, it was still 11 days away and for some people, it was too late.
"Is it too late? Absolutely it is too late for some people," she told Breakfast.
Some business owners had already had to re-mortgage their homes, for example, she said.
White said there was a lot of hurt among those in the industry. However, with news that they could open doors again next Friday, there was a lot of excitement.
"The sector could've opened up sooner. We should've been open weeks away."
The hospitality sector, at its core, was about taking care of people. The risk to open up hospitality businesses was the same as opening up retail businesses, she said.
"We know what to do - we know how to keep people safe."
Act questions delay
Act Party leader David Seymour said the December 2 "Freedom Day" should have been announced earlier, and questioned if it was delayed by not having the vaccine pass ready.
"We have been waiting for a Government that is not prepared, rather than Aucklanders to get vaccinated," Seymour said.
So far 1.2 million people had downloaded their vaccine pass, and Ardern urged those who had not yet done so to get in now.
This new system and verifier app - being launched tomorrow - will be trialled in Auckland from this Thursday, where hairdressers and barbers in Auckland will be able to open if they require proof of vaccination from customers.
Ardern said hairdressers were chosen because the seating allowed distancing to be maintained.
Guidance this week will also set out how businesses can operate safely under the traffic light system.
Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said he agreed with Bloomfield that there was a sense of optimism about the outbreak.
"We are not seeing exponential rise, there was a steady rise and now a flattening of the curve, and those outbreaks in other parts of the country have not spread widely."
With Auckland going straight into a "red light district" there was not likely to be a huge increase in transmission, and it was likely other vulnerable areas too would start in the red setting.
"More mixing will have an effect but increasingly we have vaccinations on our side," Baker said.
"My concerns remain those gaps in vaccination."
Some 83 per cent of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated. Ardern said if all people now overdue for their second shot got it today, that number would rise to 88 per cent.
However, behind the headline figures the current outbreak and vaccination rollout continues to be plagued by inequity.
Of the total 6850 cases in the outbreak, 43 per cent are Māori. The Māori vaccination rate continues to lag - not about 19 per cent behind for both jabs, although the gap is slowly closing and is just 12 per cent for first dose.
Vaccination rates, geographic and deprivation data all indicate access to vaccines continues to be an issue for our most isolated and poorer communities.
These issues have prompted some communities to ask holidaymakers to stay away this summer.
Ardern said the new traffic light system meant those vulnerable areas would likely go straight into the red setting which included mechanisms to try to ensure travel could be as safe as possible.
"We do have measures to ensure those who are protected by the vaccine are protected in other ways."
She said she did expect more checks to be in place around areas including Northland, where there was concern among iwi.
Of Monday's cases, 175 were in Auckland, one in Palmerston North, 20 in the Waikato, five in the Bay of Plenty, one in Taupō and four in Northland.
The seven-day rolling average is 186 - below the 200 predicted by Government modelling.
The number of cases in hospital has hovered between 70 and 88, and those in ICU around six - also well below the modelling.