The isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts is reducing to one week, down from 10 days, from this Friday.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has given today's briefing about the latest Covid-19 numbers and the government's response to the pandemic.
Watch it here:
Recovered cases won't need to self-isolate if they become a household contact within 90 days - an increase from the current 28 days - after having the virus, Hipkins said.
"Household contacts will need to have a Rapid Antigen Test on day 3 and 7 of their isolation."
Hipkins announced the moves at the daily 1pm briefing today, saying high case numbers and contacts in isolation were having a "wider impact on many parts of our lives".
He urged symptomatic people who were isolating to stay home even after the seven-day period until 24 hours after symptoms cleared up.
Household contacts would need to have a rapid antigen test (RAT) on day three and seven of their isolation. They should have a RAT if they become symptomatic, and if the result is positive, they are required to isolate for seven days from that point.
The changes would take effect from 11.59pm on Friday 11 March, and followed similar moves overseas, Hipkins said.
"We've looked at the international evidence really closely, the vast majority of infections are picked up within the first seven days.
"And increasing evidence that people are most likely to transmit the virus earlier in their infectious period. This evidence also shows that the risk of reinfection within the first three months after someone has Omicron is very low."
He said this meant it would also reduce the amount of time people would need to stay in a managed isolation or quarantine facility.
Hipkins also said the Novavax vaccine would be available for bookings online or by phone tomorrow, for appointments next week, with a shipment of 250,000 having arrived in New Zealand.
"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," he said.
"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."
He said some people had said they preferred Novavax over Pfizer, but suspected some had used the unavailability of it as an excuse not to get the vaccine.
"People were also saying 'I don't want to have Pfizer, I want to have Astrazeneca' and we approved Astrazeneca and there wasn't a huge surge in demand for that. Having said that the vaccine is now available and I encourage people to take it up."
He said his understanding was the manufacturer had not yet applied to have Novavax available as a booster dose.
More cases expected, public urged to get tested
Hipkins said the country was continuing to see high numbers of cases.
"We've got larger numbers of people needing to isolate and larger numbers of their household contacts also needing to isolate.
"The good part of that is it stops the virus being passed on and it helps to keep our vulnerable friends and family safe and it protects our health system - but we are also now seeing the impact that has on other parts of our lives - and it does have an impact on food supply chains for example and on businesses' day to day operations including some critical businesses that we all rely on like transport services."
The vast majority of new cases are coming through RATs, but Hipkins said it was undoubtedly true there would be more people who are cases than are being picked up.
His message was for people to take the test, even if they're feeling just a bit achy or like they have a cold. He said people who tossed a positive test result in the bin and did not tell anyone were placing workmates and people they care about at much greater risk, but he believed overwhelmingly New Zealanders were doing the right thing.
"If you're showing symptoms get the test, and then if you do get a positive test result do the seven days of isolation because it's not just about you, it's about the people around you."
He said the delay until Friday was to allow the government to change the law and get the systems prepared for a shorter isolation period.
There were 22,454 new community cases today with 742 people in hospital and four new deaths reported.
Hipkins said a Japanese study showed only about 11 percent of Omicron cases were still positive between day seven and nine, and a Qatar study showed people with Omicron who recently received boosters were less infectious with a lower viral load. Analysis of data from New Zealand showed most transmission was within households within seven days, which correlated to a study from the Netherlands, he said.
"We've always been really clear that we'd continue to adapt our settings based on the latest advice, based on the latest information and based on how the outbreak is tracking within New Zealand and what the overall effect of those restrictions are having."
He said the moves did increase risk "a little bit at the margins" but not in a significant way, considering the overall risk levels being dealt with now.
Opposition parties have been calling for these changes for some time.
Hipkins said they "tend to call for everything now, right now, as soon as they have an idea they want to know why it hasn't immediately been done".
"The reality is if you want to follow an evidence-based approach, and you want to step things out in a way that it's sustainable, that it can be managed, then things do take a little bit of time."
He said he did not expect changes to the red light setting within the next few weeks.
Decisions on changes to the red setting could be regional, he says, but deciding when to change from red to orange for example will be a bit "more nuanced than a simple cases go down so therefore we start thinking about removing" restrictions.