New Zealand has been "extremely lucky" with the Omicron variant that is running rampant around the globe and appears to have avoided a major Covid outbreak from Christmas gatherings, a public health expert says.
The Ministry of Health said there were just 17 new Covid-19 cases in the community on Wednesday.
There were 23 further cases at the border, with Omicron expected to be the "most prevalent variant" at the border and genome sequencing is under way to establish how many are of the new variant.
"The true numbers of community cases might be a bit higher with New Year's Eve figures still yet to come, but it's all going in the right direction," said University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson.
He believed the figures were being kept low also because New Zealand was having a run of sunny summer days, meaning people were mostly having activities outdoors, children were still not at school, and the high vaccination rate.
"New Zealand is still dealing with Delta, Omicron is coming but Delta is still the current variant in the community," Jackson said.
"It is still a few days too soon to see whether we have had any superspreader events on New Year's Eve, but the latest numbers show that we got through Christmas and fingers crossed it will again be the same."
The Swanson RSA, Murder Burger in Ponsonby and popular Auckland bar The Longroom have been named as locations of interest linked to New Year's Eve events and gatherings.
On Tuesday, the ministry announced a third border-related case of Omicron - a household contact of an Air New Zealand staffer who tested positive recently.
There are still no locations of interest or exposure events linked to this person, the ministry said on Wednesday.
The risk to the community from this case has been determined as extremely low.
The person, who was fully vaccinated, had been in isolation for the entirety of their symptomatic period.
"I believe the very first case involving the DJ was probably not an active one, but historical, so it was a lucky escape," Jackson said.
DJ Dimension, whose real name is Robert Etheridge, became a household name in New Zealand last week after it was revealed he was the nation's first known Omicron case outside of a managed isolation facility. He was at an MIQ facility for seven days then, under rules that have since been abolished, released to self-isolate until the results of his day 9 test were returned.
But Etheridge left the Waiheke home he was isolating at and visited Auckland's CBD a day before his positive test was returned - visiting a crowded shopping centre and a nightclub, among other spots. He was due to play at a summer festival but instead headed back into isolation when his infection was revealed.
The scare so far has not resulted in Omicron spreading in the community. The variant this week has shattered case number records overseas. New daily infections across the UK jumped to 218,274 on Tuesday, 15 per cent higher than the previous record set on December 31. New Covid-19 cases per day have more than tripled over the past fortnight in the US, reaching a record-shattering average of 480,000. Australia yesterday recorded more than 64,000 cases, up from 47,000 a day earlier,
In New Zealand, 44 people with the Covid-19 virus are in hospital - eight at North Shore, 14 at Auckland, 17 at Middlemore, four at Tauranga and one at Rotorua.
Of those, five are in intensive care or high dependency units - two at Middlemore and three at Tauranga.
Of yesterday's community cases, five are in Auckland, three in Waikato, and nine in Bay of Plenty.
Two further cases in Taranaki have been announced but will be added to today's tally as they were reported after the cut-off period.
The Emergency Department at Taranaki Base Hospital has been identified as an exposure event. The Taranaki DHB is working with those who may be affected.
No DHB staff have been stood down at this stage.
Anyone at the Taranaki ED between Saturday, January 1 at 6.30pm and midnight on Sunday, January 2, is considered a casual contact.
The two cases in Taranaki are household contacts of each other, however, their link to another case is yet to be determined. Public health staff are continuing to investigate to determine links to any previously reported cases in the region.
The interval between a person's second vaccine and their booster was officially reduced yesterday.
Jackson said this was a positive move, and he had already taken his booster shot last week.
Anyone 18 or over who has gone four months after their second vaccine dose can receive their booster shot. That's down from six months previously.
People can book an appointment with the Covid Vaccination Healthline team on 0800 28 29 26, or they can visit a walk-in vaccination site.
From January 17, people who have gone four months after their second dose can book their boosters on Book My Vaccine. For those who have waited six months or longer after their second dose, they can book their booster now on the site.
In total, 1.2 million Kiwis have become eligible to get their booster from yesterday.
The gap between the second and booster doses of the vaccine has been shortened due to the global emergence of the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible than previous strains.
"Omicron will get into the community at some stage, it's just so contagious. But the absolute key thing we've got to do is to keep it suppressed and one way to do it is to get vaccinated, and get our boosters to keep the transmission as low as possible," Jackson said.
"We just have to look across the Tasman, Sydney is in chaos. What they've done in Australia is exactly the wrong thing to do - a policy of 'let's just let it rip' is going to be disastrous."
A total of 7161 vaccines were administered on Tuesday - 403 first doses, 1410 second doses, 20 third primary doses and 5328 booster doses.
In Auckland, 1091 people are isolating at home, including 303 cases.
In the Waikato, 51 people with Covid-19 are isolating at home.
The three cases in the Waikato are all linked to previous cases. Two of the three cases are in Te Kuiti with the third in Hamilton
The nine Bay of Plenty cases are all in the Tauranga area and are all linked to previous cases.
Pop-up Covid testing sites are operating in popular holiday hotspots Waihī and Whitianga today.
Meanwhile, Auckland's Airport Park and Ride drive-through vaccination centre has reopened, which added significant surge capacity for vaccination efforts.
The drive-through is located at 42 Verissimo Drive, Māngere, and operates from 10am-5pm with no appointment needed. It can vaccinate more than 4000 people per day.
A Northern Region Health Coordination Centre spokesman said its site lead at the Airport Drive-through Vaccination Centre confirmed that over 450 people were vaccinated today, and 89 per cent of those were for their booster dose.
"Across the day the average queue time in the drive-through was less than 20 minutes, and we are ready to boost staffing and open more lanes to meet demand at the drive-through. It's open 10am to 5pm, every day."
- additional reporting: Associated Press