The most stringent Covid settings will begin to be eased as soon as next month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
This would begin the process of a gradual easing of Covid health measures, which would include the eventual end of some vaccination mandates, she said.
Ardern quickly added that ending restrictions would not be as a result of the occupation outside Parliament, now entering its 15th day.
In fact, she said one of the reasons the country could begin lifting health restrictions after the Omicron peak was that "many unvaccinated people will at that point have been exposed to the virus," giving them some level of natural immunity.
She ended her post-Cabinet address with a direct message to the Parliamentary protesters, saying that when normal life returned "it will be because easing restrictions won't compromise the lives of thousands of people – not because you demanded it".
The message came as the united political front against the occupation continued to fray.
National leader Christopher Luxon used a speech on Monday - scheduled just before Ardern's post-Cabinet press conference - to say the protests were symptomatic of more widespread division.
He took aim at Ardern's claim of leading a "team of five million", instead saying she lead the "most divisive government in history".
"What we are seeing outside Parliament, and the reaction to it, is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time," Luxon said.
He said the public health justification for mandates was beginning to wane in light of Omicron, and argued that the mandates for border workers and mandates that applied to children needed to go.
Ardern clapped back at Luxon's decision to address protesters' concerns, suggesting it represented a backflip on the National's participation in a joint statement from all five political parties in Parliament last week, saying that no conversation with the protest would begin while it continued to illegally occupy Parliament.
"We all took as parties a position - rightly so - that none of us would engage with what is ultimately illegal activity outside that borders on and demonstrates bullying and harassment of Wellingtonians - I find their position at the moment quite upsetting to see now they seem to be responding and sympathising with the protesters," Ardern said.
Luxon himself did not set out firm dates for what he would like to see, saying people didn't need "the exact dates" that restrictions would be eased.
"They want to know the Government's got their back and is being proactive, not letting Covid set the agenda by just waiting and seeing," he said.
He said there should be a plan for phasing out mandates, beginning with border workers and said mandates for children should "be gone".
Ardern did not give any firm date for ending restrictions, saying it would only come once the country was on the other side of the peak in Omicron cases which was likely to occur "roughly mid to late March, only three to six weeks away".
Monday's case numbers showed Omicron cases remained elevated, although the number reported by the Ministry was lower than the 2522 community cases reported on Saturday.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health reported 2365 cases of Covid-19 in the community, with just 12 at the border.
Of the community cases, 1692 were recorded in Auckland DHBs, with the outbreak in the rest of the country growing, but still posting relatively low numbers of cases.
There were two deaths reported yesterday. They were the first Covid deaths to be reported this month, following weeks of no deaths. Hospitalisation rates remained high, with 116 people in hospital with Covid-19, one of whom was in ICU or HDU.
Ardern said once the country was on the other side of the Omicron peak the traffic light settings would change, given the threat to hospitals and the health system had passed.
"We'll be able to look at moving back through the traffic lights," Ardern said, noting gathering limits would ease.
When it came to the issue of vaccine mandates and vaccine passes - which the occupiers of Parliament claim is the primary reason for their protest - Ardern said vaccine passes "were necessary", and the "least bad option".
"If we hadn't had vaccine passes as we managed Delta, we would have had to instead use more general restrictions across the whole population," Ardern said.
She said the Government would look to "ease mandates in places where they are less likely to impact vulnerable people," although she added that mandates would "remain important in some areas for some time".
This was not too different from the position Luxon sketched in his own speech. While he called to an end for mandates in general, he believed that some mandates should stay for now.
"I continue to think that mandates for healthcare workers are reasonable," Luxon said.
"You want people dealing with Covid in our hospitals to be vaccinated, for example," he said.
Ardern cautioned that the traffic light system was likely to remain in place for the winter to combat not just Covid, but the return of the flu, following two winters where the flu has been kept largely at bay thanks to Covid measures.
"As our border opens, we approach winter, with the potential of more illness, we need to ensure our health system can manage a heavier burden," she said.