The Government is "ploughing ahead" with Auckland's move out of lockdown and into level 2 tonight, the Minister of Health says.
There was no chance of the region staying in level 3 lockdown any longer than had been already flagged, Hipkins said - despite some experts calling for a rethink in light of double-digit community cases yesterday.
That means lockdown restrictions for New Zealand's biggest city will end at 11.59 tonight.
Hipkins has revealed there will be slightly fewer cases announced at 1pm today, compared with the 13 yesterday - 11 of them in the community.
All risks were being weighed up, he told Mediaworks radio.
But the level 2 that the region moves into will likely be different than the one Aucklanders experienced some months ago.
Hipkins confirmed this morning the move to level 2 would be more like a move to a level 2.5.
That would be mean more of an emphasis on masks being worn in public places, as well as limits on social gathering numbers. Masks will be mandatory on public transport.
He told MediaWorks this morning the Government was still "ploughing ahead" with its plans for Auckland to go to level 2 at midnight.
"The key thing for us is looking at that cluster - are all the cases within the cluster, are they known and identified? The evidence so far is yes, they are," he said.
Asked how many daily cases would lead to a return to level 3, Hipkins said it depended on their nature.
"This is one cluster with a bit of a strong sub-cluster building around it. They're all people, by and large, who we've known about and been in isolation."
He confirmed the source of Auckland's outbreak had not been found.
"Every new piece of the puzzle helps to paint a bit more of a picture of where it might have come from," he told Mediaworks.
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended Auckland's level 3 lockdown by four days.
Since then, the Auckland cluster has been growing and is now the biggest Covid-19 cluster to date in New Zealand.
At 1pm today, Ardern will address the country and outline the next steps of the Government's Covid-19 management plan in Auckland, and wider New Zealand.
It comes as experts call for a rethink on the move to level 2.
Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy called on the Government to reconsider the planned move down to Covid alert level 2.
Hendy said Auckland's level 3 "lockdown lite" was never going to contain the virus as effectively as the full level 4 national lockdown from late March to early May.
"That is the trade-off. If you are at lower alert levels, it takes longer for those numbers to drop away," he said.
"We know that level 2 is not really designed to contain a community outbreak. Level 2 definitely runs the risk of the outbreak starting to grow again."
Hendy said ministers should reconsider moving Auckland to alert level 2 on Monday - and if the change still goes ahead, employers should keep workers at home if possible.
"If you can work at home, you should continue to do so for the next few weeks," he said.
He said reopening Auckland schools on Monday was "certainly a concern".
"We need schools to be keeping social distancing in place and making sure that they keep good records of who has been in particular classes," he said.
University of Otago Professor Michael Baker called for a tough "alert level 2.5" with everyone wearing masks in schools, indoor workplaces and other indoor gatherings, as well as the planned maximum of 10 people in gatherings in Auckland.
Baker said the latest cases would have caught the virus after level 3 restrictions were imposed, so "we need to be doing more, rather than less, to stamp it out".
"Going down to level 2 on Monday means it's more likely we will start to see numbers at the very least not decrease. We'd have a very prolonged transmission and there will be some risk of the numbers starting to track up," he said.
Meanwhile, police will be distributing masks to thousands of people across the country as Kiwis ease into the new rules tomorrow.
"We recognise this requirement is something new for many Kiwis and it's something people may not have been used to doing previously," Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said.
"While these masks have been designed to be disposable, as part of our education approach it is hoped that it makes the idea of wearing a face covering become more familiar for the public."
Chambers said the police response to the pandemic was to "work with the public first and remind them of what is required from them" rather than take hard and fast action.
From tomorrow, police will be visible and present at transport hubs and other areas which would normally get higher volumes of foot traffic.
Chambers said that would accompany reassurance patrols that have been throughout Auckland during level 3.
"It's a good time to remind people that while Auckland will no longer be at alert level 3, there are still restrictions on gathering numbers and physical distancing.
"Police would like to acknowledge the vast majority of the Auckland community who played their part in alert level 3 and we are confident this will continue into level 2."