NZ okays boosters as COVID-19 marches on

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As COVID-19 creeps out of Auckland around New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern's government has given the go-ahead for booster shots from later this month.

Any Kiwi who completed their two-dose vaccine treatment more than six months ago will be eligible for a third shot from November 29.

Booster shots will be Pfizer, New Zealand''s sole vaccine used to date, and funded by the government.

All adult Kiwis will be eligible for the top-up, with COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins saying health and border workers would be prioritised "because they're on the front line".

About 455,000 New Zealanders are in line for a booster by year's end.

The decision comes as case numbers and hospitalisations reach record highs.

On Monday, health officials reported 173 new community cases, after Sunday's record 207, taking the seven-day rolling daily average case count to 173.

Hospitalisations reached a peak of 93 on Saturday and currently sit at 90.

Concerningly, cases are popping up outside of the two locked-down regions of Auckland and the Waikato.

On Monday a case was reported in Masterton, an hour and a half's drive from Wellington in the Wairarapa.

That case comes on top of spread to Taranaki, Rotorua, Taupo and the Tararua district over the weekend.

The virus may also have reached the Bay of Plenty, as wastewater testing shows positive results for Tauranga and Mount Maunganui dating back to November 10.

The virus' spread outside of lockdown is worrying officials, especially given regional vaccine rates are lower than the NZ average.

Despite the new infections, the government is moving away from lockdowns, lifting the Waikato lockdown from Wednesday, with no new lockdowns being actively considered.

"In these cases we haven't needed to. We feel they're fairly contained," she told Radio NZ.

Of Monday's 173 cases, 163 are in Auckland, where new cases has surged the vaccination rate.

New Zealand's biggest city is 85 per cent fully vaccinated, with 93 per cent of the eligible population receiving at least one jab.

The government will make a call on moving Auckland out of lockdown - where it has been for 13 weeks - and into a vaccine certificate system on November 29, the same day boosters become available.

"November 29 is a decision day for cabinet around when the country will move into the COVID protection framework," Ms Ardern said.

"We've already given a really strong indication that our expectation is that Auckland will move."

The shift will mean vaccinated Kiwis regain many privileges that have been suspended to fight the virus.

In an acceleration of previous plans, Ms Ardern has also hinted she may move the entire country to the vaccine certificate system if vaccination rates are high enough on November 29.

Respected outbreak modeller Shaun Hendy told Radio NZ that Kiwis could expect daily case numbers to reach 300, when they might peak if restrictions are obeyed.

Ms Ardern said she had not been surprised by case counts to date.

"We've modelled for some time that we could have cases in that order and we're not tracking outside of those projections ... it's in line with what we've expected," she said.

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