NZ to review COVID-19 settings this month

·2-min read

New Zealand won't be rushed into ditching its remaining COVID-19 restrictions as Australia opts to loosen pandemic rules.

This week, Australian leaders agreed to cut isolation requirements from seven days to five for all but workers in high-risk settings, while also ditching masks on domestic flights.

In New Zealand, a mandatory isolation period of seven days applies not only to cases, but members of the same households.

COVID-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall said officials had noted Australia's call but "it doesn't feed into our reviews".

The government will next review virus settings - styled on a traffic light and currently set at orange - later this month.

Rather than simply flick the switch from orange - which requires isolation and mask use in many public places - to green, New Zealand may opt to throw out the entire system.

"We've been working with a traffic light system for upwards to a year now. So now's the time for us to look at whether or not all of those settings are fit for purpose," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Auckland on Friday.

She defended the system though previous months, when New Zealand's cases, hospitalisations and deaths spiked during an Omicron wave.

"We we are mindful that as we come out of winter, there has been a time where we've had a particular burden of COVID that's really hit hard our hospitals," she said.

"That's where our settings have been really important."

Dr Verrall said a long-delayed decision on expanding eligibility for a second booster shot was not part of that timetable.

Some Australian health professionals have attacked the decision of national cabinet on isolation and mask use on planes.

The Australian Medical Association queried the decision, with president Steve Robson saying doctors were "scratching their heads" on the call.

Mark McGowan, who as premier of Western Australia maintained similar border restrictions to New Zealand during the pandemic, supported the move.

"Case numbers are going down. We're coming out of winter. It's the right time to do it," he said.

New Zealand's case numbers have dropped markedly from winter wave highs in July.

On Thursday, the health ministry reported a seven-day rolling average of cases at 2023, deaths at seven, and hospitalisations at 319 - all of which are trending downwards.