COVID cases fall in New Zealand to 14

·2-min read

New Zealand is giving some Kiwis stuck in Australia a pathway home, amid slumping local COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, health officials reported 14 new community cases, the lowest daily count since September.

The drop comes despite a post-holiday uptick in testing numbers, suggesting the country's Delta outbreak is increasingly under control.

A Ministry of Health statement called the case count "welcome news".

"We thank New Zealanders for the care they have taken over the holiday period while travelling across the country and connecting with friends and family," the statement read.

"We know case numbers can be quite variable from day to day and it remains likely that there will be a rise again in coming days."

Nine of Tuesday's cases were found in Auckland, with other cases in Northland, Waikato, Wellington and Canterbury.

Hospitalisations remain at low levels during the outbreak, with 34 in hospital including two in intensive care.

Increased cases at the border - of which many are of the Omicron variant - continue to worry public health officials.

So far, New Zealand has reported just three community cases of the highly infectious variant.

Last month, Omicron prompted Jacinda Ardern's government to reverse its reopening plans, pushing out a planned January 17 shift to self-isolation to the end of February.

That caught many abroad on the hop, including some who travelled to Australia believing they would have an easy return.

Now, the government has created a new emergency allocation of quarantine beds to bring them home, but only if they "face significant issues if their travel is delayed" beyond February - such as the loss of a job or lease.

Last week, the government ran a ballot for 1250 quarantine rooms in March and April, but specifically blocked Australian-based Kiwis from entering.

Some 203 Australian-based Kiwis won the ballot anyway, but 145 were forced to give back their rooms when they were unable to find quarantine flights across the Tasman.

The remaining 58 are likely to have booked flights from Australia via a third location - such as Singapore or Fiji - in desperation to get home.

The government is yet to confirm its new reopening schedule.

The vaccination campaign continues at pace, with 92 per cent of Kiwis aged 12 and over fully vaccinated and metropolitan areas reaching extraordinary levels of coverage.

Canterbury, which includes Christchurch, is at 96 per cent fully vaccinated, while Wellington is at 95 per cent, and Auckland is at 94 per cent.

The two lowest regions are within reach of the government's target of 90 per cent fully vaccinated: Northland is at 85 per cent, while Tairawhiti is at 87 per cent.

In areas with strong coverage, the focus has switched to booster shots, which are available four months after a second dose.

More than 548,000 booster doses have been administered so far, representing 36 per cent of those eligible.

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