blog jan 25


Mask rules tightened; omicron spreads to Tauranga as cluster grows

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 25. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch with me? You can reach me on

Today’s headlines

  • No more bandanas: tightened face covering rules for the red traffic light setting have been announced, including that actual face masks must be used.
  • There are 10 new cases of omicron in the community, pushing the January cluster up to 29.
  • Two of those cases are in Tauranga, the first omicron cases reported in the city. Other new cases were located in Auckland, Nelson and Palmerston North.
  • A second wedding has also been linked to omicron with the Ministry of Health warning that a “large number” of people will need to be tested.
blog jan 25

Mask rules tightened; omicron spreads to Tauranga as cluster grows

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 25. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch with me? You can reach me on

Today’s headlines

  • No more bandanas: tightened face covering rules for the red traffic light setting have been announced, including that actual face masks must be used.
  • There are 10 new cases of omicron in the community, pushing the January cluster up to 29.
  • Two of those cases are in Tauranga, the first omicron cases reported in the city. Other new cases were located in Auckland, Nelson and Palmerston North.
  • A second wedding has also been linked to omicron with the Ministry of Health warning that a “large number” of people will need to be tested.
Jan 25 2022

No more bandanas: Mask rules tightened at red

Photo: Getty Images

Mask protocols at the red setting of the traffic light framework have been tightened in time for omicron.

The key changes:

  • Masks must now be worn at all hospitality outlets, such as cafes, except while eating. That means you will have to wear a mask when you enter the venue and any time you stand up from your table.
  • Masks will also be required at close-proximity businesses.
  • Bandanas and scarves will no longer be acceptable face coverings. People must wear an actual face mask. “This is to ensure it is a mask designed to cover your nose and mouth properly,” said Jacinda Ardern.
  • Children from year four and up will now also need to wear a mask on Ministry of Education-funded school transport services and public transport.
  • All workers covered by a vaccine mandate will now be required to wear a medical-grade mask.

“I know that some of these adjustments might cause challenges but the science has been updated and these adjustments will slow the spread of the virus,” said Ardern, speaking at parliament.

These changes will come into force in nine days’ time so as to allow businesses time to adjust.

In terms of what mask the general public should wear, Ashley Bloomfield said they needed to be well-fitting. “We’re not going to be recommending the use of N95s for the general public,” he said. A three-layered cotton mask, with a filter, would be acceptable. The Ministry of Health will provide further guidance on this in the coming days.

More detail on the government’s omicron response is due tomorrow afternoon from associate health minister Ayesha Verrall.

83 million rapid antigen tests on order

(Image / Supplied)

PCR tests will continue to be the main way of diagnosing Covid-19 as the omicron variant takes hold in the community. The government has today announced that capacity for nasal swab tests can be increased by nearly 20,000 per day.

But, following widespread calls from opposition MPs and health experts, rapid antigen testing will be used more widely as a supplementary method of detecting Covid cases.

“Critical workers identified as close contacts will be able to use proof of a negative rapid antigen test to return to the workplace during their required period of isolation,” said Jacinda Ardern, speaking at this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference.

“This will minimise disruption to critical infrastructure and supply chains, helping to keep New Zealand going.”

Despite this, the prime minister believed that PCR tests remained the best.

There are currently 83 million rapid antigen tests on order, said Ardern. “We have 4.6 million in country, with confirmed  delivery of an additional 14.6 million in next five weeks. We’re awaiting the delivery schedule for an additional 22 million.”

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, in a statement, added: “With omicron cases now in the North and South islands, testing, tracing and quickly isolating any Covid-19 cases and their contacts will be all the more important for protecting whānau and communities,”said Verrall.

“A rapid rise in case numbers will require us to shift from identifying all infected individuals to being more targeted to those most at risk and those needed to maintain critical infrastructure.”

A further update on the government’s omicron response, which will include more detail on the three phase approach, is due tomorrow.

Watch: PM, Bloomfield, poised to make Covid testing announcement

Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at this evening’s press conference, at which it was announced all of NZ moves to Level 4. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield are set to front this afternoon’s post-cabinet press conference. It comes ahead of an announcement tomorrow that will lay out, in detail, next steps in the omicron response.

It’s expected an announcement regarding Covid-19 testing will be made this afternoon.

Watch live: 

Bus routes, bakery and liquor store latest omicron-linked locations

A number of Auckland bus routes have been caught up in the omicron outbreak, with some travellers deemed close contacts.

The 195 from New Lynn, the 133 from Henderson, and the 917 from Glenfield to Albany were all taken by omicron-infected travellers over the past week.

Anyone who was on the same bus as a potential omicron case needs to self-isolate immediately and get tested for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Chartwell Bakery in Manukau and a Thirsty Liquor store in Papakura have also been named as locations of interest connected to the omicron outbreak. Visitors to the stores need to self-monitor for symptoms.

For more, visit the Ministry of Health website here

Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles: Why the vaccine works

(Toby Morris / The Spinoff)

There’s still a lot of talk about vaccines, their efficacy, why we need to get boosted… and so on.

The Spinoff’s Toby Morris, alongside microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, has created the following gif that succinctly explains the importance of getting all three doses of the Covid vaccine – and how the jab can keep us safe from all variants of the virus, including omicron.

(Toby Morris / The Spinoff)

Record vaccine day for boosters and 5-11s

A 7 year-old child holds a sticker she received after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Michigan, on November 3, 2021 (Photo: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Yesterday was a record day for booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine, with 56,788 doses administered. That pushes the total number of boosters to above one million.Similarly, the Ministry of Health said yesterday was also a record for paediatric doses with 14,400 administered. Almost 95,000 5-to-11-year-olds have now received a first dose.

“The number of first and second doses in the 12+ population also saw notable increases on previous days,” said the ministry.

On the testing front, 12,867 were taken yesterday.

First omicron cases in Tauranga as outbreak grows by 10

Image: Archi Banal

There are 10 new cases of the omicron variant, including a pair of new cases in Tauranga. Both are in the same household and are isolating at home, but case investigations are ongoing.

Six new omicron cases are in Auckland, all linked directly or indirectly to a wedding and other events in Auckland on January 15 and 16. “The number of cases and contacts are expected to grow given the highly transmissible nature of Omicron and as we learn more from case interviews,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson.

As reported earlier, one case from the omicron cluster attended another wedding, while infectious, at the Pukekohe Indian Hall in Auckland. “Auckland Regional Public Health Service believe a large number of people attended this event. Anyone at this location at the relevant times is asked to get tested immediately, and self-isolate until a negative result has been returned,” the ministry said.

In addition: one more person has tested positive in Nelson Tasman. They are a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating when they tested positive. Another case, a household contact who was already in isolation, has been confirmed in Palmerston North.

The January omicron cluster now contains 29 cases around the country.

Overall, there are 25 new community cases today including both delta and omicron infections. New delta cases have been confirmed in Rotorua, Auckland and Northland. Today saw 37 new cases confirmed at the border, all presumed to be omicron. There are currently 10 people in hospital with Covid-19, with none in intensive care.

A note from Duncan Greive, publisher of The Spinoff

Omicron means that, yet again, we at The Spinoff will be devoting significant resources to covering this enormous and complex story. It comes just as we caught our breath after delta, which arrived and hit our commercial revenues hard just as we’d made a major investment in people – hiring more journalists, along with data and technology specialists to help make our work more robust, tactile and accessible.

I need to be frank: we have never experienced anything remotely so challenging as the past six months, and I approach the coming weeks with trepidation, as so many others in business will be doing. So if you value what we do, please donate today. Every dollar is ring-fenced to support our journalism, and right now we need reader support more than ever. One more thing: if your organisation wants to support The Spinoff, we would really love to hear from you – contact us today to find out more about becoming an organisation member.

Isolation times should drop when omicron spreads – Baker

Epidemiologist Michael Baker (Photo: RNZ/Philippa Tolley)

One of the country’s leading epidemiologists has argued for cutting back on Covid-19 isolation requirements when the omicron variant is rampant in the community.

Currently, as we explained today, you must isolate for at least 14 days if you test positive for the virus. Your household contacts must then isolate for a further 10 days, or 24 in total.

Michael Baker told RNZ that could be overkill. “When omicron is everywhere, it’s quite reasonable, in fact it’s the right thing to do, is relax the isolation requirements,” he said.

Internationally, the 14 day isolation period has been dropped to 10 or even seven days in some countries, he said. “While the incubation period of omicron is shorter, around three days, the tail is still reasonably long and there’s quite a bit of data coming out that say people still have a big viral load even three or four or five days after their symptoms have peaked.”

Baker also advocated for wider use of rapid antigen tests, saying that the fact they are less accurate than PCR tests won’t matter so much during a community outbreak. “It’s not the golden chalice, it’s a tool in the toolkit,” he said.

Second wedding linked to omicron infection

A Covid-19 testing clinic in Auckland (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

A second Auckland wedding has been linked to an omicron-positive person.

A “private event” held at the Pukekohe Indian Hall on January 16 was, according to the Herald, a wedding. This is separate to the Auckland wedding that was attended by nine members of the Nelson family who have also contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, the Herald has also reported that no other staff members or residents from the omicron-linked retirement village in South Auckland have so far tested positive.

Cabinet is set to meet today, having delayed its typical Monday meeting due to Wellington Anniversary Day, and further details on the government’s omicron plan will be revealed tomorrow.

Air cleaners on the way for schools – but not in time for term

(Photo: halbergman via Getty Images)

The government’s ordered 5,000 portable air cleaners for schools as children prepare to head back to the classroom. But, just 500 will be available in March with the remaining 4,500 due to be delivered by June.

The cleaners will be used in targeted areas within some schools and aims to improve ventilation while children and teachers are working indoors.

“I’ve heard that schools have done a good job keeping fresh air moving through their classrooms, but we know opening doors and windows to get fresh air flow won’t always be practical,” said Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“To help schools identify classrooms and other spaces which get good levels of fresh air flow and those that don’t, schools will receive a ventilation self-assessment toolkit with a portable CO2 monitor they can use to help identify areas of concern and the right approaches to improve ventilation.”

Any school with concerns about ventilation should reach out to the Ministry of Education for support, said Hipkins.

‘We’re all good’: Motueka omicron cluster speak out

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Motueka family with the omicron variant have spoken out, confirming to media that they are doing well as they self-isolate.

The group of nine have no links to the border despite all contracting the highly transmissible variant. They had attended a large wedding in Auckland and visited several locations around the city, including Rainbow’s End. As a result, the country moved back into the red setting over the weekend as the government scrambles to try and link the cases and discover any undetected Covid spread.

One of the family confirmed to the Herald that they are now isolating together at a motel and being looked after by Ministry of Health officials.

“We are all good,” he said, but directed further queries to the ministry.

The next Covid-19 update is due today at 1pm.

‘Gamechanging’ Covid-19 drugs might miss omicron peak

Merck’s experimental Covid-19 drug molnupiravir (Photo: Merck & Co/supplied)

Potentially life-saving antiviral Covid-19 medications may not be available here until the peak of the omicron outbreak.

The government last year announced it had signed off advance purchase agreements for 60,000 doses each of Molnupiravir, and Pfizer’s Paxlovid. However, neither has been approved for use here yet.

Molnupiravir has been called a “gamechanger” due to the fact it can reduce the chances of newly diagnosed Covid-19 patients needing hospitalisation by about 50%, while trials of Paxlovid cut the chance of hospitalisation by 89%.

Both need to be taken at the onset of a Covid-19 infection in order to be effective, but with neither available yet there are concerns they will made distributed too late.

The Royal College of GP’s medical director Bryan Betty told RNZ that Medsafe approval should be expedited. “The sooner we have the ducks lined up and approval … the better off we’re going to be,” he said.

However, Betty said that even if the medications weren’t made approved until April that would still make them available ahead of winter.