There are 5499 new community Covid cases in New Zealand today.
The latest case numbers were announced shortly after the Government unveiled a rough guide about its proposed response to future Covid-19 variants.
The Ministry of Health reported a further 18 Covid-related deaths in today's update. Fifteen occurred in the past three days, and three were since last Monday, June 13.
The deaths included three people from the Auckland region, one from Waikato and one from the MidCentral District Health Board region.
Another five people from the Wellington region, two from Nelson-Marlborough, three from Canterbury, one from South Canterbury and two from the Southern DHB area.
Of today's reported deaths, one person was aged in their 50s, one in their 60s, three in their 70s, eight in their 80s and five were 90 or older.
Eight were male and 10 were female.
Today's reported fatalities took the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid to 1450.
There are 334 people in hospital with the virus, including four in intensive care.
The highest numbers of hospitalisations were in Auckland, Waitematā, Counties Manukau, and Canterbury.
The seven-day rolling average of community Covid case numbers is now 4873 – down from last Wednesday when it was 5777.
Earlier: Govt can't rule out future lockdowns as last resort to combat next variants
Meanwhile, the Government said it could not rule out the return of lockdowns as a last resort to combat future Covid variants.
But new Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said lockdowns and border closures would only be a last resort.
"All measures have to be proportionate and justified, in accordance with our laws."
Verrall and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield spoke to reporters this afternoon to outline the possible next stages in the pandemic.
Verrall said the virus had continued to evolve since the start of 2020.
"And each variant has had different characteristics."
The minister said she'd asked Bloomfield and health officials to devise strategies to tackle possible future mutations of Covid-19.
"There is a lot of uncertainty and in that context having a highly prescriptive plan can actually be a liability," the minister added.
The Ministry of Health said it was very likely a new Covid-19 variant of concern would emerge within weeks or months.
A new "variants of concern" strategic framework has been developed, Bloomfield said.
The new plan had five scenarios outlining the severity and immune-escape characteristics of various possible variants.
A worst-case scenario would involve a highly transmissible variant also capable of evading immune responses.
Bloomfield said many social groups were consulted when developing the framework.
And he said it was crucial for vulnerable communities to be consulted when devising the new potential virus responses.
Best-case scenarios and disastrous scenarios were anticipated. The rise of Omicron had prompted some of the new research, he said.
"We're not doing any hoping here. We're planning for the best and planning for the worst, and everything in between."
One key scenario anticipated a new variant being even more transmissible than Omicron, Bloomfield said.
"Our response has shifted as we've had different variants," Verrall said.
A short, sharp lockdown of the type used in 2020 was not going to be viable for a variant as transmissible as Omicron, she said.
Verrall said the Delta lockdown in 2021 was necessary. The country at the time had insufficient levels of immunity to avoid lockdowns, she said.
Verrall and Bloomfield addressed media shortly before the latest virus case numbers and hospitalisations were announced.
On Sunday, new recorded daily community cases in Auckland fell below 1000 for the first time since late February.
But hundreds of people are in hospital with the virus, including four in intensive care.
Patients being treated in hospital today are in Northland: 8, Waitematā: 41, Counties Manukau: 37, Auckland: 57, Waikato: 26, Bay of Plenty: 10, Lakes: 1, Tairāwhiti: 2, Hawke's Bay: 6, Taranaki: 15, Whanganui: 3, MidCentral: 25, Wairarapa: 1, Hutt Valley: 17, Capital and Coast: 15, Nelson Marlborough: 5, Canterbury: 38, South Canterbury: 3, West Coast: 0, Southern: 24.
And today's community cases were detected in Northland (144), Auckland (1637), Waikato (335), Bay of Plenty (166), Lakes (81), Hawke's Bay (150), MidCentral (129), Whanganui (53), Taranaki (144), Tairāwhiti (54), Wairarapa (56), Capital and Coast (559), Hutt Valley (252), Nelson Marlborough (258), Canterbury (896), South Canterbury (85), Southern (446), West Coast (50) and unknown (4).
Yesterday, 5630 new community cases were reported, as were 17 Covid-related deaths.
One of those who died was a child.
Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker told the Herald on the weekend it did look like case numbers overall were continuing a slow decline.
He and some other public health experts have called for a tightening of measures, especially around mask use, to bring daily rates further down.