Checkout time for almost all MIQ hotels has been announced, with only four out of 32 staying in the network from the end of June.
Soon, more than 600 Defence Force personnel involved in managed isolation and quarantine will return to their units, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
Rydges in downtown Auckland will be the first hotel to leave the network, on April 30.
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By the end of June, 28 of the current MIQ facilities will return to being hotels.
Not everybody would mourn the end of the managed isolation hotels, Hipkins acknowledged.
"MIQ meant that not everyone could come home when they wanted to. But it also meant that Covid-19 could not come in when it wanted to, either."
Hipkins said it had served us "incredibly well" and he acknowledged all those who had worked in managed isolation and quarantine facilities around the country.
Two years ago, there was a lot of anxiety associated with Covid-19 and people working at MIQ had faced many obstacles as some members of the public did not want them to be involved in various outings, for example, and their children were bullied at school.
And Hipkins said the MIQ network had already helped almost 230,000 people return to New Zealand.
He said the Government was still figuring out what might be needed in terms of a national quarantine capacity in the future.
"This could include retaining hotels or purpose-built facilities."
Hundreds of nurses and police who staffed the isolation hotels had already gone back to frontline duties, Hipkins said.
The New Zealand Defence Force will begin winding down its involvement too, with most personnel returning to their camps and bases from empty MIQ facilities, while others at a few remaining facilities and headquarters will be required until MBIE personnel can take up the role for ongoing operations.
Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short said the NZDF's involvement in border work through Operation Protect has helped keep New Zealanders safe over the last two years.
"As we all know, the pandemic is not over, and it continues to impact us every day. We remain ready to step up when called upon to support and protect New Zealanders," Air Marshal Short said.
The Grounded Kiwis lobby group challenged the MIQ system's legality, especially effects on citizens' right to return home and whether border controls were justified in the public good.
Some opposition politicians in recent months described the MIQ system as inhumane.
The network's development started in April 2020.
Police vaccine mandates
Chris Hipkins says the Government hasn't decided if it will appeal a ruling which declared the police vaccine mandates unlawful.
He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that the particular case was "narrow" and a wider case was currently before the same judge that involved teachers and nurses.
He said this case potentially has greater implications and other workforces would be looking to what the ruling would be and what it would mean for them.
He said it was unlikely vaccines would be mandated in the police force again.
"What we have heard from the police is, while they wanted that requirement put in place earlier on, they think they now have it covered and they don't think they need it now."
He said discussions were ongoing with the New Zealand Defence Force.
Chris Hipkins isolating
Hipkins is currently in self isolation after one of his children tested positive for Covid-19.
The Minister for the Covid-19 Response told Mike Hosking his five-year-old tested positive yesterday night - the same day he announced that home isolation rules would change from 10 days to seven from 11.59pm on Friday.
"I obviously didnt know when we made that decision I'd be the one of the first to experience that!"
He says it's possible he will catch the virus - but he's being cautious.
"It's certainly possible - the adults in the house are all vaccinated and boosted but that doesn't ensure you won't get it," he said
New strain 'not a sub-type'
Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist and a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC, says he personally would not call B.A.2 another Omicron sub-type, because they are very different to the Delta strain.
"The worry is that it potentially has more infectious potential - and we're seeing that right now," he told TVNZ's Breakfast show.
In the United Kingdom, across all regions of England, B.A.2 is now 50 per cent, he said.
Cases are rising across all age groups and hospitalisations are also rising across England, he said.
"That's the worry - that it's extending this Omicron wave."
Feigl-Ding said within households, it has a higher "attack rate" than the current Omicron variant the world has known over the last few months.
Vaccines do work against B.A.2, Feigl-Ding said.
"But only if you have a booster."
With a booster, people have a 70 to 80 per cent of protection against infection and 90 per cent protection against hospitalisation.
"Which means you really, really need a booster. I can't stress that enough - there's just simply not enough people getting it."
He said people were still regarding the booster as an optional thing - but with the B.A.2 variant, it was very much needed.
"Booster is absolutely required for protection against B.A.1 or B.A.2.
"You just need to look at Hong Kong ... Singapore and South Korea to see how crazy B.A.2 is."
Right now, they are running out of oxygen in Hong Kong, Feigl-Ding said, and morgues are filling up.
Asked for his advice to New Zealand in light of the opening of our international borders, Feigl-Ding said: "Don't just rely on border control - mass test...and use boosters."
"Be very careful, be very vigilant," he told Breakfast.
"The whole Hong Kong outbreak actually started because of a hotel quarantine sloppiness cross-transmission that then spiralled out of control.
"And now Hong Kong, with huge numbers of population - they were too complacent."
Many of the older population in Hong Kong, however, are unvaccinated.
Middlemore staff 'under pressure' but coping
Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Dr Pete Watson says staff at Middlemore Hospital are under pressure and stressed, but they continue to work hard to help and treat Covid patients and are hoping cases will plateau soon.
He acknowledged many staff were also personally affected by Covid and had needed to isolate too, he said.
At Middlemore, they had worked to delay services that could be delayed in order to focus on Covid patients.
Asked if they were coping, Watson said: "It's really tough. I've got to be honest - people are tired. Many people are going off sick and it's stressful.
"It's a day at a time."
They hoped the peak of Covid cases would happen over the next few weeks, at least.
There are just over 150 Covid patients at Middlemore and of those, four people are in the intensive care unit.
Five wards are being used at the hospital to treat Covid-infected members of the public.
Watson acknowledged that many patients had other underlying health conditions which meant getting Covid could be fatal.
He said all the evidence they were seeing - on infection rates, ICU and death rates - is that the booster shot "certainly makes a difference."
"That is what will improve outcomes for people," he said.
Getting a booster remains a really key strategy to fighting Covid, Watson said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced an award that will recognise people who have contributed to New Zealand's Covid-19 response.
The first recipients of this award will be MIQ staff.
"The award provides a formal opportunity to acknowledge those who have played a critical role in our Covid-19 response," Ardern said.
"Our MIQ workforce has demonstrated care and professionalism, often at considerable personal risk and sacrifice and are worthy recipients of this award and our gratitude."
She said the award will take the form of a lapel pin.
"MIQ staff have been at the front line of Covid-19 from the start. Prior to the vaccine they had no way to protect themselves from the virus, other than PPE.
"Working in MIQ often meant giving up on normal lives to protect others. I've heard stories of staff being ostracised through fear of infection and isolating and changing their normal routines to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to others."
The MIQ overhaul was announced shortly after a change to isolation rules for people with Covid-19 community cases.
Hipkins said from Friday, people testing positive and their household contacts will have to isolate for seven days, rather than 10.
Public health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga said the seven-day isolation period was sensible.
"It's a pragmatic decision by Government to balance the risk of infection and transmission versus the need to allow people to get back to work," he told the Herald.
Tukuitonga, Associate Dean Pacific at the University of Auckland, said evidence suggested most people with Omicron were infectious within four days of catching the virus.
The new regime would miss the odd case, when a person was infectious longer than average.
But he said the shorter isolation period would reduce some burdens for many households.
"I understand at the moment there are really big problems with food and social service providers struggling to cope with demands," Tukuitonga said.
Tukuitonga said evidence suggested Auckland was at least a few days ahead of other regions in terms of the Omicron surge.
"We can be confident and say that it's plateauing and possibly declining but I wouldn't be out celebrating in the streets just yet," he said of the Auckland outbreak.
Nationwide, the number of hospitalisations for Covid-19 was 742 yesterday, with 19 in intensive care units.
Of the people hospitalised, 497 were in greater Auckland.
Auckland DHB had 207 such cases, Counties Manukau had 169, and Waitematā had 121.
In Waikato, 67 people were in hospital with Covid-19. No other region came close to even Waikato's hospitalisation numbers.
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce said the reduction to seven days' isolation was a step in the right direction.
The chamber's chief executive Leeann Watson said 10 days' isolation was unsustainable and bad for business.
"This is a small gasp of relief for businesses who are already facing significant staff and customer shortages at a time when the labour market has been under significant pressure," Watson added.
"The biggest issue that businesses are currently facing is access to staff, and in the case of our hospitality and retail sectors, access to customers."
Tompkins Wake insolvency specialist Wayne Hofer said Omicron and associated restrictions meant many businesses had insufficient revenue to stay solvent.
He said even before Omicron entered New Zealand, the country faced a severe labour shortage, which border closures had compounded.
Shorter isolation periods reduced some pressure for companies with staff isolating, Hofer said.
Meanwhile, a local brain health expert said it was important for research into Long Covid to get underway.
Long Covid involved the effects of Covid-19 a person could experience weeks or months after the initial illness.
Emeritus Professor Warren Tate said all graduating doctors should have a clear understanding of the illnesses and the dysfunctions Long Covid might cause.
"Currently the messaging is very mixed," Tate told the Science Media Centre.
"Some senior clinicians have said the current Omicron pandemic is just a mild flu-like illness while others have warned not to be complacent about the potential serious health consequences, even if for a minority."
The Ministry of Health announced 22,454 new community cases and four deaths from the pandemic yesterday.