|At 11:59pm tonight (Thursday, 24 February) the country will move to Phase 3 of the Omicron response.
What does this mean?
Ministers have confirmed a move to the next phase of the Government’s Omicron response from 11:59pm tonight (Thursday, 24 February), COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.
“With daily case numbers in the thousands and forecast to rise sharply during the next few weeks, now is the time to implement the next stage in our plan that will keep New Zealand going thought the Omicron peak,” Chris Hipkins said.
“These changes will ease some of the pressure on our health system over the next three to six weeks, while helping to ensure critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy keeps moving.
“There’s no doubt the next few weeks are going to be tough, but New Zealand is better-positioned than most countries to respond to Omicron. What we’re seeing is what we expected. We just need to stick to our plan as we manage higher numbers of cases in coming weeks before we reach our peak.
“Because so many of us are vaccinated and Omicron is less severe we can have a more devolved response and much greater self-management. Care and support will continue to be there for those who need it most, as it always has been.
“Preparation and supporting one another will be key. We’ve been asking people to prepare for the last few weeks, both mentally and by putting plans in place. Making an isolation plan or ‘stay at home’ kit with friends and whānau, and being ready to use the tools that are available will allow resources to be directed towards protecting the most vulnerable.
“Community providers are resourced to provide care in the community, especially to vulnerable populations, and wraparound health and welfare support services alongside clinical care will focus on those with high needs.
“From now on the number of hospitalisations will replace case numbers as our key metric. Already we are seeing a much smaller proportion of cases requiring hospital care with only one person needing ICU support to date.
Chris Hipkins said New Zealand is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, which means that for most people Omicron will be a mild to moderate illness.
“That should make the next period less of a worry for the vast majority of people. But we are still strongly encouraging people to get boosted. You are 10 times less likely to need hospital care and it helps lower the rates of transmission. So please, for those who aren’t yet boosted, it’s now urgent.
“There are three major changes to how we will manage this phase:
“From midnight tonight, close contacts will no longer need to self-isolate and only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will be required to do so. Confirmed cases and household contacts will need to isolate for 10 days but can now self-release after day 10 provided any testing requirements are met.
“We are continuing to support our critical services to operate. The critical worker exemption scheme we announced this month will enable eligible household contacts to return to work during their isolation periods by returning a daily negative Rapid Antigen Test, and should it become necessary we may consider supporting probable or confirmed cases to return to work.
“There are also changes to how we test, and who should get a test,” Chris Hipkins said.
“With millions of RATs now distributed around the country to testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and within workplaces, RATs will become the primary form of testing. You can now access a RAT from thousands of locations around the country, making getting a test much easier. PCR testing will be reserved for those who need it, and a PCR test will no longer be required to verify a positive RAT result.
“In the case of household contacts, they are required to test on days three and 10 of their isolation. If they develop symptoms, they are should test sooner.”
“In addition, RATs will soon be available to the public for purchase through retail outlets.
“This will provide choice and access for the general public and small businesses. With forward orders of 182.5 million RATs, the Ministry of Health says it is confident that the retail sale of RATs will not detract from the public health response to Omicron.