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As Covid-19 numbers fall, traffic light setting decision to be announced

The government is set to reveal today whether any part of the country will drop to the orange traffic light setting in time for Easter.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ministers held off from easing restrictions last week, citing sustained pressure on the country's health system.

The number of daily Covid-19 cases and new hospital admissions nationwide continue to trend downwards.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said last week his advice for Cabinet will not look at the number of hospitalisations but instead the pressure on hospitals and general practices, including staffing.

There are no limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings at the orange setting and face masks are not required in as many places.

There have been calls to tweak the rules, however, so face masks are required indoors at schools.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said until ventilation in schools is sorted, masks should remain mandatory in the classroom.

He told Morning Report he is concerned about transmission in schools.

"Only 20 percent of our school students are fully vaccinated."

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins will make the announcement at 1pm today.

As Cabinet considers relaxing restrictions, it has also commissioned advice on how the country should respond to any future variants of Covid-19.

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Dr Ian Town Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ministry of Health chief science adviser Dr Ian Town said officials will work on it over the next month.

The advice will look at what some of the potential outcomes of any new variant could be, Town said.

"Be they more infectious, which, of course, is the BA.2 experience isn't it? It's highly infectious, more so than Delta and previous variants, and then that is balanced off with the disease severity. So what is the impact on the individual, when they become infected. Does it get into the lungs more quickly? Is it more likely to lead to hospital admission?"

Officials will consider a number of different scenarios too, he said.

When asked what the worst-case scenario could be, Town said the "doomsday scenario".

"There's always a trade-off in terms of the virus. Obviously, in the extreme example, if everyone that contracts the virus has a fatal outcome, the virus will not be able to persist in wider society.

"So we're imagining from our genomic specialist that actually it's that infectious thing that makes it have an advantage. And so we're looking at that milder end of the spectrum, in terms of the scenarios, but there's always that balance there."