People aged 55 and up will be able to book vaccines from Friday, five days earlier than planned, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.
He also says New Zealand's rollout of the Pfizer vaccine has reached the two-million mark, with 2,021,024 doses given by midnight last night.
Chris Hipkins and joint head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Megan Main have given a coronavirus and vaccine update this afternoon.
Watch the update here:
Hipkins also revealed Mainfreight and Fonterra are initial employers who would act as workplace vaccination sites, and will be followed by the Warehouse Group, and Fisher and Paykel Healthcare.
Yesterday was a record day for vaccinations with more than 42,000 inoculations, and DHBs continuing to track more than 3 percent ahead of the plan, Hipkins says.
Second doses have been given to 769,700 New Zealanders.
Hipkins says the government is mindful of equity in the vaccine rollout, and while there has been good uptake and bookings among Māori and Pasifika, there is more work to do on this.
He says vaccines will open for those aged 55+ on Friday, five days ahead of schedule. This is because DHBs have been continuing to increase capacity, he says.
"People in this 55+ age group who haven't already been vaccinated can expect to get invitations or go to book their vaccine from Friday."
Bookings can also be made on the vaccine bookings phone line, Hipkins says.
"We have our eyes firmly fixed on the end of August, where we expect over the next few weeks to deliver the next million doses much much faster than the first two million doses that have been delivered."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the aim is, nationwide, to have everyone who wants to be vaccinated done by the end of this year.
Next Thursday, Ardern will release advice from experts on how to open the border safely and public health measures, and then set out a government plan.
New system to give MIQ workers to report discrimination
Main says the government has launched a campaign called "treat me fairly", which aims to give MIQ workers the ability to make complaints when facing discrimination.
"It's a way for our workers to report incidents of discrimination or stigmatisation or being treated differently simply because they work in MIQ. It's a safe, private, confidential way for them to let us know what they've encountered ... MIQ workers and their families should expect to be treated no differently than other people when accessing services," she says.
She says the MIQ workforce is key to the system working and they deserve the thanks of all New Zealanders, but "they are not always treated with kindness in their communities".
MIQ bookings system changes made, ballots and wait lists considered
Main says more than 200 improvements have been made to the managed isolation allocation system, including 32 changes in just the last few weeks. A lot of changes are to do with usability, including people not having to re-enter their details when refreshing the page.
She says there are changes being made to let people know "safely and fairly" when more vouchers become available. They are also "working hard" on the possibility of wait lists and ballots.
"What we don't want to do is put an extreme load on the system that will then make it unusable," she says. Testing is being done, and they expect to be able to make decisions within six to eight weeks.
A wait list is likely to just move the problem to a different place, and people would be likely to still miss out, she says.
"We just need to weigh up what's going to give us the best result."
Main says the team wants to be able to bring everyone home who can be, but it must be done in a safe, managed way - and that is difficult.
"What we are effectively doing is filling a 4000-person capacity sports events every two weeks but with a number of additional complicating factors, not least of which is the mass disruption to travel all around the world and the uncertainty that creates."
She says there is no silver bullet and "unfortunately that's the reality of life in a global pandemic".
They are working hard on making the system as fair as possible given the difficult circumstances, she says. This includes having some spaces set aside for urgent need, at a high threshold and as a last resort.
She says demand spiked in July, and "we haven't seen this level of demand previously".
Hipkins says the cohorting system has been suspended because of returnees from New South Wales. The 1000 rooms that were set aside for the trans-Tasman bubble are continuing to be used and will likely be used for some time as it is now the only way for people to return from Australia.
He says one of the fundamental points is some people are still going to be unable to return, regardless of the system used.
"There will continue to be some disappointment there."
Hipkins says one of the options being looked at is being able to provide these types of services - which people are currently paying for - for free.
Pandemic not slowing or stopping - Hipkins
Hipkins says the current international situation reinforces the imperative of taking a staunch risk-based approach to dealing with Covid-19. He says cases worldwide are surging again, with an increase of 20 percent in the last two weeks of July, with more than half a million new cases reported each day.
The WHO says the delta variant has reached 132 countries and continues to spread, with cases rising in multiple continents.
In the USA, a renewed surge of cases has seen the seven-day average increase more than 500 percent to an average of 80,000 cases a day.
The pandemic is not coming to an end, Hipkins says, and it is important to keep the virus and particularly the delta variant out of New Zealand.
"Every extra MIQ space we open up increases risk. We already bring in 4000 people - the population of a small New Zealand town - every fortnight. We bring in around three times more people per capita than Australia does."
Hipkins says outbreaks across the Tasman can be traced back to their managed isolation facilities, so the government will continue to take a very staunch approach at the border.