There are 8730 new cases of Covid-19 today and 808 people are in hospital with the virus. The Ministry of Health has reported a further 45 Covid-related deaths.
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has given his final Covid-19 briefing today, before stepping out of the role on Friday.
Bloomfield was accompanied by Public Health Agency deputy director-general Andrew Old and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand's interim national medical director Dr Pete Watson.
In three regions last week, hospitalisations have levelled off, Bloomfield said.
BA.5 now makes up 61 per cent of the country's Covid cases. Health officials expected the variant would fully take over by the end of August.
Yesterday, there were 9256 new community cases of Covid-19 and a further 38 people had died with the virus.
There were 822 people in hospital with Covid, including 24 in intensive care.
Last week, the Ministry changed the way it reported deaths to focus on those in which Covid-19 was the cause or a contributing factor.
Bloomfield said modelling suggested that daily cases were likely to peak around 12,000.
"Hospitalisations tend to track a week behind cases and we have seen cases dropping."
The worse-case scenario outlined by modellers a few weeks ago was now "highly unlikely", he said. However, we would continue to see significant Covid deaths until cases drop.
People who were not fully vaccinated were six times more likely to die from Covid, Bloomfield said, adding that getting boosted was vital.
Half of the Covid-related deaths of people between the ages of 20 and 60 could have been avoided if they were boosted, he said.
Bloomfield said he is honoured to have led the Ministry of Health through the Covid pandemic.
He thanked the media for having played an important role in keeping the public informed.
A great part of NZ's Covid "success" had been how communities responded to the information provided, Bloomfield said.
"Our biggest healthcare force is our citizens."
Hospital squeeze likely for months
Dr Pete Watson said authorities are working hard to address the increased pressure on hospitals due to Covid and other winter illnesses. He expected that pressure to continue across the country for months.
Watson said there is a winter illness plan in place for hospitals.
Authorities have been looking to others, including students, to support staff in non-clinical duties.
As of tomorrow, more than 400 pharmacies will be able to start supplying over-the-counter Covid medication.
Watson said the uptake of the second booster is contributing to a decline in case numbers.
No new monkeypox cases
Asked about monkeypox, Andrew Old said there were no new confirmed cases in New Zealand.
"Unfortunately global cases are starting to rise."
That included 40 cases in Australia, Old said.
Health officials were working through the WHO list of recommendations to ensure New Zealand remained in the best position to minimise an outbreak here.
Old said authorities have been working on plans since the beginning of the outbreak in May.
More NZ cases were "certainly" expected, and officials were working with Pharmac to secure a supply of a vaccine for monkeypox.
Old thanked Bloomfield for his work during the pandemic: "I'd personally like to give my thanks to Ashley, but perhaps not for passing the media stand-up baton."
14 authorities told to fluoridate water
Bloomfield has today written to 14 authorities instructing them to fluoridate their water.
The 14 that had received a directive today would take anywhere between six months and three years to put fluoridation in place.
"I've been a long-term champion of fluoridation," Bloomfield said.
"I would encourage those councils and those ones I haven't directed to fluoridate their water as soon as possible - they don't need to wait for direction."
Calls for school mask mandates
Schools have also now returned after the school holidays – along with calls for masks to be compulsory at schools.
Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was open to the idea of introducing mandates in schools if warranted but advice they had from schools remained they "appreciated the ability to implement in their own way on their own terms".
"We want to strongly encourage the use, but we're leaving it up to schools."
She dampened down any expectation that the Covid-19 isolation period would be reduced during winter, saying it could increase case numbers.
The Ministry of Heath has issued guidance to schools that it "strongly recommends" schools adopt a mask policy inside school buildings for at least the first four weeks of the term.
Yesterday RNZ reported a group of 10 leaders from regional principals' associations calling for help from the Government, saying schools were at or near breaking point because of the stress of ongoing staff and student absences.
It will be two weeks since the Government moved to offer free RATs and masks to people in an attempt to boost testing for Covid-19 after concerns that only half the actual case numbers were being reported.