Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed the entire country will drop from red to the orange traffic light setting from 11.59pm tonight, saying the "overall picture is a very positive one".
Watch Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins here:
Hipkins said the change in alert levels was justified for several reasons, including an ongoing decline in cases.
He said it had been three weeks since the most recent simplification to the traffic light system, and despite the "significant relaxation of the settings, we've continued to see positive improvements in the overall trajectory".
He said case numbers now sit below 10,000 new cases per day for the first time since 24 February, and that hospitalisations in Auckland were lower, with all three DHBs each reporting fewer than 100 patients for the first time since late February.
Planned care delivery is also increasing day by day, and deaths were also decreasing, from a seven-day rolling average of 20 a week ago, to 13 now.
"The overall picture is a very positive one."
The change ot the orange traffic light setting means there are no indoor or outdoor capacity limits and no seated and separated rules.
Face masks remain an important protection and are encouraged, but are largely no longer required.
They are still required at some gatherings and events, close-proximity businesses like hairdressers and food-and-drink businesses. Hipkins said masks are still required on public transport and flights.
Masks are also no longer required in schools, though they are again still encouraged. The ministry is providing further advice to schools about increasing ventilation.
Hipkins said mask requirements in schools will no longer be justified in all cases, some will have high rates of vaccination or immunity through having had Covid-19, and others might not be experiencing outbreaks at all, so it "does move to a more localised response from schools".
He says Cabinet "absolutely" considered the possibility of requirements for mask use in schools.
"Ultimately looking at a school by school basis, in some schools there is still a very strong justification for masks - but not all.
"It is very challenging for schools, it has proven to be one of the most challenging Covid-19 requirements."
He said schools have been provided with guidance, and they have access to public health guidance so they can consider the advice for themselves.
Hipkins urged the roughly 1 million New Zealanders who have not yet got booster shots to do so, saying New Zealand fared much better than many other countries because of high levels of vaccination.
He said the only question in considering settings was over whether the move to orange would be tonight or tomorrow, and ultimately the evidence was very in favour of moving to orange.
Hipkins said the traffic light system may be used in response to a combination of Covid-19 and influenza.
It was hard to say exactly how many people in New Zealand have had Covid-19, but it "could be significantly more than the official statistics are showing".
"It could be around the two million marker by now ... the modelling suggests the outer limits would be sort of in that 1.75 to 2 million range at the upper end. It may be less than that."
He said the government has had regular feedback on how the outbreak is affecting Māori and Pacific communities, though they were not specifically consulted with on today's traffic light decision.
"The word consultation in a public sector sense has a particular type of meaning and we haven't run formal consultation processes around alert level decisions or around decisions about where we sit on the Covid Protection Framework.
"The time constraints around that certainly would make that very difficult ... that's not to say though that we haven't received feedback and we haven't taken that feedback on board. We absolutely have."
The next review of the traffic light settings will be in mid-May.