Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is defending the move to scrap the Covid-19 traffic light system but says there will continue to be waves of cases.
She told Morning Report case numbers were expected to rise, mask use could be brought back and isolation periods could change.
“It very much depends on the unknown of what happens with waning immunity. Some modelling suggests we may see an increase in cases before the end of the year, but not to the scale we saw earlier this year, particularly for hospitalisations.”
While mask mandates on public transport had been scrapped overnight, Ardern said public health officials still advised wearing masks on public transport.
“In the future, mask use will continue to be one of those measures that as cases increase, we will dial up and down accordingly.
“So they may well return, but at this stage the view was we could work with guidance and advice rather than mandating for that environment.”
She said new sub-variants of Omicron emerging was the “most likely scenario”.
If cases went up and increased pressure on the health system, isolation periods could also be changed, she said.
All government vaccine mandates end on 26 September, including the health workforce.
“We’ve always said we don’t want to keep in mandates, requirements and so on, for longer than the evidence suggests we need to.
“Very clearly the advice he was now that we were able and therefore should remove vaccination mandates for that workforce.”
As for immunocompromised people being left out, Ardern “encouraged mask use” for those who were going to be in vulnerable settings.
“If someone is wearing a mask, please, we just ask that people respect their that is their choice, they’ll often be making that choice on behalf of others.”
She said widening access to antivirals would help people who were older, immunocompromised or disabled.
Daily new community Covid-19 cases
Masks are now only needed in hospitals or aged care facilities, vaccine requirements for travellers have been dropped, and isolation for household contacts has been axed.
National Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the move should have been made much sooner, but he was pleased measures like isolation for positive cases and masks in high-risk settings like healthcare would remain.
He told Morning Report the National Party had “committed” to setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the country’s Covid-19 response if the government did not.
“It is really important to look back and learn from what happened. It’s highly appropriate that you have a Royal Commission into economic response, but also the health response.”
He said the country “is ready to move on” but he would continue to wear a mask in crowded places.
There was “a palpable sense of relief around the country at the fact that these restrictions have been lifted”.
“Wellington has quite a degree of mask-wearing but in lots of other parts of the country they ditched them a while ago.”
Bishop said the party would have preferred a five-day isolation period for positive cases instead of seven days.
“We’re not going to quibble with that. The core principle is if you’re sick, you stay home.”
ACT leader David Seymour wanted even more rule changes including the isolation requirement being shortened to five days.
He said he would prefer a test-to-release regime for positive cases.
Jacinda Ardern visiting the UK
Ardern is heading to the UK on Wednesday and will announce in the coming days whether she will meet with King Charles.
She said she would participate in events for the countries where the Queen was the head of state.
She had not spoken to the King since his mother’s death.
National backed the one-off public holiday to mark the death of the Queen.
“The Queen served 70 years on the throne of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and she has given steadfast service to New Zealand. One day to mark that is appropriate,” Bishop said.
He defended National leader Christopher Luxon’s views to scrap Labour Day as a public holiday when Matariki was introduced.
Bishop said the one-off holiday on 26 September was “not a permanent, entrenched additional public holiday”.
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