* 22,454 community cases, four deaths, 742 people hospitalised including 19 in ICU
* Covid-19 cases and household contacts to isolate for a week
* Two negative rapid antigen tests required for household contacts
* 250,000 Novavax vaccines here, people can book from tomorrow
The isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts will be reduced from 10 to seven days from midnight on Friday.
And Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has also announced the Novavax vaccine will be available for New Zealanders to book from tomorrow.
Hipkins spoke just before the Ministry of Health announced 22,454 community cases and four deaths today. There were 742 people hospitalised, including 19 in ICU.
Of the four deaths, two were in the Lakes district, one in Tairāwhiti and one in Counties Manukau.
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 remains steady and those in ICU or HDU represent 2.5 per cent of hospitalisations.
Of the 742 people in hospital, 507 are in the Auckland region, 67 in Waikato, 26 in Bay of Plenty, 7 in Rotorua, 3 in Tairāwhiti, 17 in Hawke's Bay, 5 in Taranaki, 18 in MidCentral, 2 in Whanganui, 8 in Wairarapa, 12 in Hutt Valley, 38 in Capital and Coast, 3 in Nelson Marlborough, 18 in Canterbury, 2 in Timaru and 9 in Southern.
The average age of those in hospital is 57.
Of the 19 people in ICU today, Hipkins said he understood some of those people were ready to transfer to general wards but at the moment there was a wait for space to become available.
The ICU was under pressure, but not enormous pressure, he said. That number of people in ICU was not a cause for alarm.
"Anyone in ICU requires a lot of support so the system becomes under pressure."
Active community cases rose above 200,000 for the first time, today standing at 202,141.
There are 8529 new cases being reported in Auckland today, representing 56 per cent of the total new cases. This is down from 61 per cent of total new cases a week ago.
There are 715 new community cases in Northland, 2109 in Waikato, 1427 in Bay of Plenty, 633 in Lakes, 707 in Hawke's Bay, 655 in MidCentral, 202 in Whanganui, 536 in Taranaki, 373 in Tairāwhiti, 166 in Wairarapa, 1879 in Capital and Coast, 1062 in Hutt Valley, 452 in Nelson Marlborough, 2024 in Canterbury, 120 in South Canterbury, 835 in Southern and 20 in West Coast.
The location of nine cases is unknown and 12 new cases were at the border.
Of today's 22,454 cases, 21,896 were confirmed by RATs and 558 by PCR tests.
The total number of confirmed cases is 285,906.
Hipkins on isolation changes
Hipkins said as case numbers increased, larger numbers of people needed to isolate and the reduced isolation time was because of high case numbers and wider impacts.
"There needs to be a balance between effectively controlling the outbreak and the flow-on effect for business and essential goods and services such as transport and food supply," he said.
"The most up-to-date public health advice is that there is a decline in infectiousness of Omicron over time, and that in most cases transmission occurs within seven days."
The risk of reinfection of Covid-19 was very low in the first three months after having Omicron, he said.
"For this reason, recovered cases will no longer need to self-isolate if they become a household contact within 90 days after having the virus. This is an increase from the current 28 days."
The changes were a pragmatic decision, he said.
After a suggestion that opposition parties had called for these changes for some time, he said they tended to call for things "right now" but the reality was, if you wanted to follow an evidence-based approach, things do take time, he said.
He said the evidence was indicating that seven days was the best timeframe to contain the risk while balancing up the need to get people back to work.
"Our primary objective is to stop the chain of transmission as much as possible to manage the spread of Omicron.
"Seven days isolation will break the vast majority of potential transmissions, while ensuring people can get back to work quicker and therefore reducing the impact on business operations."
Household contacts will need to have a rapid antigen test at day 3 and day 7 of their isolation period, Hipkins said.
If they become symptomatic they should also get a test, and if the result is positive, they have to isolate for seven days from that point.
If a person is isolating and still has symptoms after seven days, they are advised to stay home until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
He urged people to upload their RAT results, even if they were negative.
Hipkins listed studies the Government used to inform the changes, including from Japan and the Netherlands.
Hipkins said he didn't expect to see any changes in the country's Covid settings in the next few weeks. In terms of potentially regionalising a response, the Government had done that before and he wouldn't rule it in or out.
On allowing positive Covid-19 health workers to return to work, Hipkins said a scenario where that could be justified, as an example, included a surgeon who, if they didn't perform a certain surgery, the patient would die.
New Zealand's border reopening was under review and more information wasn't expected to be "a long way off".
Police said this week they won't be charging two women who were blamed for sparking a mini lockdown in Northland last October. Asked if he or anyone else in Government would apologise after it was suggested that at least one of the women used false information to cross the Auckland/Northland border, he said that was ultimately a matter for the police.
"I have not been given any information to suggest that any of the claims that I made at that time, or information that I shared at that time, was wrong."
Hopkins said it was undoubtedly true more cases were out there than we were seeing in the reported case numbers.
On whether the self-isolation requirements could play a role in people not reporting the RAT results, Hipkins said a bit of "Kiwi psyche" was at play, where people who had some symptoms waited to see if they got worse before they got a test.
"It's something New Zealanders have done right the way through this pandemic. My message to them is get the test, and get the test result. But yes, I think there is more Covid out there than the numbers are indicating."
Kiwis were overwhelmingly doing the right thing in reporting their test results.
His message to people who tested positive via a RAT was to do the required self-isolation.
"It's not just about you, it's about all the people around you."
"New Zealanders awaiting the arrival of Novavax to get vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to make an appointment online or by phone from tomorrow," Hipkins also said.
"A shipment of more than 250,000 Novavax Covid-19 vaccines (Nuvaxovid) has arrived in New Zealand and preparations are well advanced for some vaccination centres to be able to offer it next week.
"Novavax will be available for people aged over 18. It requires two doses, with a three-week gap. It has not been approved as a booster dose.
"While the Pfizer vaccine remains the preferred Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand, Novavax is now available for those people who would prefer, or require, an alternative."
Hipkins said he didn't believe the company had applied to have their vaccine used as a booster.
On the Chatham Islands situation, he said people who had Covid and needed care could be transferred to the mainland, as is done with other health issues.
Meanwhile, police are investigating the possible sale of positive rapid antigen tests on social media.
An Otago Facebook group user appeared to hawk the tests saying: ''Have you been overworked due to high demand and short staff? Feel like a 10-day break?
"Well have I got the deal for you, 4 positive tests for sale (aka get out of jail free cards)."
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said offering to sell or selling positive test results was tantamount to fraud and damaging to New Zealand's faith in the testing system.
Just as Omicron has displaced or surpassed Delta, an Omicron subtype has also appeared.
The BA.2 subtype is becoming more evident – but a virologist says it's still not clear if it causes worse infection.
Otago University virologist Dr Jemma Geoghegan said any suggestion of greater disease severity with BA.2 wasn't translating to real-world observations.
"I think it would be sensible to say that, if BA.2 was more severe, we would be seeing that play out because we know BA.2 has increased worldwide, and is now dominant in a lot of countries," she said.
Hipkins said today the advice he was getting was New Zealand was dealing with Omicron, rather than a dual outbreak with two variants circulating.
Australian epidemiologist Jodie McVernon yesterday told a business summit Omicron will bounce back over winter in a population whose virus defences have begun to wane.