The whole of NZ will move into the traffic light framework at 11.59pm on Thursday, December 2, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
She made the announcement at a post-Cabinet press briefing this afternoon alongside director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Ardern urged Kiwis to download the vaccination certificate, which will become critical under the framework for people to get out and about.
Cabinet had also decided to undertake a trial by allowing hairdressers and barbers in Auckland to open from Thursday to vaccinated people, Ardern said.
It would be a trial of the vaccination certificates - hairdressers could only take bookings - no walk-ins. All staff must be vaccinated and only vaccinated customers were allowed.
Masks and safety precautions had to be taken.
Ardern said hairdressers were chosen because the seating allowed distancing to be maintained. The trial did not include beauty salons.
While the vaccination certificate system had been trialled on a small scale, and the verifier app tested, hairdressers would be able to see how they worked on a larger scale.
On why there was no move on hospitality this week, Ardern said the announcement did give them certainty that they could open on December 3 - although Auckland would be at the red light stage.
Other close distance sectors - such as hospitality and gyms - involved larger numbers. Hairdressing by its nature involved lower numbers of people and would allow an effective test of the vaccination certificate, the PM said.
"This was the lowest-risk one."
Retirement complex in lockdown
A Mount Maunganui retirement complex is in lockdown tonight after the son of an elderly resident tested positive.
Residents at Ocean Shores were notified about the result today and are undergoing testing.
One News understands the man had been staying in the village with his mother for some time.
A senior manager has confirmed the case is double-vaxxed and his mother has had a single jab.
One News also understands the man works at Tauranga Hospital.
Details on traffic light system later this week
Ardern said she will set out key information and details on the traffic light system later this week.
The law change needed to introduce the traffic light system and vaccination passes would be passed under urgency this week. Ardern rejected claims it was not well-thought out or considered, saying the Government had consulted widely while it was forming the plan.
More details on how positive Covid cases would be handled in the community from a health perspective would also come later this week.
Ardern said vaccine levels would be a key determining factor in what light of the new system each region was put in. "We don't want people yo-yoing. So starting in green is an unlikely place for people."
Auckland would be put into red because of the current outbreak, rather than the vaccination levels. However, regions' settings would be determined by looking at vaccination levels as well as case numbers.
"Regional travel restrictions will not be the norm, hard borders will not be the norm." She said there may be cases of localised lockdowns, but they would not be common.
Bloomfield said the decisions on traffic light entry points would also look at whether regions had unvaccinated pockets, and the readiness of each region's health systems to deal with more cases.
Asked if they felt the weight of making such decisions, Bloomfield said "the decisions have felt weighty right from the start". However, he said NZ was moving to the next stage in the best possible position - with a controlled outbreak, going into summer, and with a high vaccination rate.
Asked if she had any regrets about the earlier decision to break level 3 into different steps, Ardern said the call had been to ease safely if it could be done. "We signalled to people that if we were able to move that is what it would look like, but also not to set an expectation that if we were to move that it would be to [level 2]."
Ardern effectively ruled out a move to level 3.3 for Auckland, saying it was now so close to the traffic light system there was no point. She said reopening would have been uneconomic at level 3.3 for some businesses because of the caps, but those constraints were not as high under the red light classification.
Ardern said across the whole traffic light system, if you were vaccinated you could lead an ordinary life. What varied from step to step was the rules for large gatherings.
Schools would get sector guidance this week, as would those in charge of large events, on how they would be able to operate at different light colours.
Asked about tangihanga, Ardern said if people did not want to use vaccination certificates then numbers would be more limited, as they are under the current alert level system. It would be up to marae to decide how they would operate under the framework.
"If people chose not to use vaccination certificates, then they don't have to, but there will be limits on numbers."
Ardern will re-visit Auckland on Thursday. Her schedule was still being finalised, but she would meet with business groups and social service providers.
Domestic travel and international border
Some communities have asked Aucklanders to stay away from their regions over summer.
Ardern said her message was that the Government had put in mechanisms to try to ensure travel could be as safe as possible. Lower vaccinated places would be put at red, and the country as a whole was highly vaccinated.
"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 Northland, where there was concern among iwi.
On recognising vaccinations of people vaccinated overseas, Ardern said there was work under way on that.
On reopening the international borders, Ardern said that once that decision was made she wanted to be sure it would stick so it would be "careful and deliberate".
Ardern said she was looking at what was happening in Europe. She wanted a system that was flexible enough to adjust to changes in the pandemic's impact - and the other countries being a season ahead of New Zealand were giving some indication of what could be coming.
Bloomfield said he too was watching Europe's experience closely, saying there was no doubt that winter increased the transmission of the virus.
Asked if she would ever follow Austria's example of mandating the vaccination for everybody, Ardern said "no. No. It is just not something we would do."
Hospital admissions steady
Today's announcement comes after 205 community Covid cases were reported - the fourth-highest daily total - and the death of a person in their 40s with Covid-19.
Asked about the person who died, Bloomfield said it was somebody who had been in hospital for a while and his thoughts were with the family.
He said throughout last week, hospital admissions and those in ICU had not increased. "This is a good sign." He said it showed the "profound impact" that vaccinations were having.
Bloomfield said the details on what would prompt a move up and down the lights in the system would be made clearer this week.
On the Hawke's Bay case who had travelled to the region after being tested in Auckland, Bloomfield said Healthline was making daily calls to that person - there was now a flag to advise the local DHB after the Hawkes Bay DHB was caught on the hop by it.
He said the system should have alerted the DHB, but that had not happened and steps had been taken to ensure there was no repeat.
On the decision for more reliance on saliva testing rather than nasal testing, Bloomfield said there was more confidence in the saliva testing, and in border facilities a weekly saliva test could now be used instead of nasal testing.
Of the 205 new community cases today, 175 are in Auckland, one is in Palmerston North, 20 are in the Waikato, five are in the Bay of Plenty, one is in Taupō and four are in Northland.
There are 85 people in hospital today, up two from yesterday, with cases at North Shore (20); Middlemore (22); Auckland (38); Whangārei (1); and Waikato (4).
Six people are in ICU or a high-dependency unit. The average number of people in hospital is 48.
Forty-five patients (56 per cent) in hospital have not been vaccinated, the ministry said.
Fifteen (19 per cent) of those hospitalised had one vaccine dose and 18 (22 per cent) were fully vaccinated). The vaccination status of the remaining two cases was unknown.