The best thing New Zealanders can do as we move into Phase 2 of our response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is get boosted and give each other some space, said Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
“What we have learned from the overseas evidence and experience is this virus is more infectious and easier to pass on than other variants but overall seems to be having a slightly milder effect on people.
“This has led to people treating it like the flu and thankfully for most people it won’t be serious. However, the more people with the infection the greater the likelihood of passing it on to those who we really need to protect, such as people who are immunocompromised and older people, who may become very unwell.
Dr Bloomfield said that while almost everyone will be exposed to this variant it doesn’t mean they will be infected.
“Everyone has a role to play in stopping this virus being passed on. The most important thing we can do is mask, pass, scan and keep your distance.
“We also know that boosters really strengthen the body’s ability to fight this virus. That enhanced response gives much greater protection than two doses alone. Having tamariki vaccinated too helps protect them and their wider family group, particularly older whanau members.”
Dr Bloomfield said the shift in approach to managing Omicron is to ensure support is targeted to where it is needed the most, so our health system and supply chains remain sustainable.
The key features of Phase 2 are a reduction in isolation periods required for cases (down to 10 days) and contacts (down to seven days); the use of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to allow critical workers who are close contacts of a case to be able to go to work if they test negative; and a greater use of digital tools to support cases and contacts. There will continue to be a strong focus on vaccination.
Cases will now be notified by text message. The message will provide links to information on self-isolation, how to tell others you have COVID-19, how to look after yourself and what help is available. Those who test positive will fill in a web-based form to help ensure that those with the highest needs, either health or welfare, are prioritised and managed accordingly. This might be, for example, if a person is immunocompromised or has an underlying illness that would be severely impacted by contracting COVID-19.
Cases will self-identify their close contacts online for contact tracing purposes and to help identify high risk exposure events. They will also be required to inform their employer themselves.
“Notifying cases by text will speed up the process and help reduce spread as cases can be contacted quickly - as soon as a positive result is confirmed by the laboratory- and isolate early. Their contacts can then also isolate early.”
Phone-based interviews will continue by public health case investigators where required. This might include cases at Aged Residential Care facilities and those who don’t have a mobile phone or computer.
Cases and household contacts will now isolate for 10 days with Day 1 being when the case receives their first positive test. Household contacts will need to test at Day 3 and 8 or if they become symptomatic. Non-household close contacts will isolate for seven days and test on Day 5 or if they become symptomatic.
Contacts will also be notified via text message and will receive links to the information they need to self-manage. QR scans, Bluetooth and location of interest will continue to be used to identify contacts along with the cases own recollection of who they have interacted with, or where they have been.
As part of the move to Phase 2 of the Omicron Response Plan, a Section 70 Notice is now in place for Cases requiring them to isolate for 10 days from exposure. An additional Section 70 Notice relating to both close contacts and household contacts isolation and testing requirements is also now in place.
The critical worker close contact exemption scheme has begun for symptomatic healthcare and critical workers, for those who have a negative test daily using a RAT. The results of RATs can also be self-recorded in My Covid Record, alongside PCRs.
The COVID-19 Health Hub will go live on Thursday enabling better support to be delivered by linking cases to the closest geographical providers