New Zealand to move to Phase 2 of Omicron plan - PM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced today that New Zealand will move to Phase Two of the Omicron plan at 11.59pm on 15 February, when the period of home isolation reduces.
Ardern says the increase in Covid-19 cases is not unexpected and the country will stay in Phase Two as long as daily cases remain between 1000 and 5000 cases.
There is no change to the traffic light system, and schools and businesses remain open, she says.
Bloomfield says Phase Three is not an inevitability, and the objective remains the same - the difference "is simply how much we are able to follow up people, the requirement on people to self-isolate, and the kind of tests we will use".
Covid-19: Next phases of government's Omicron plan revealed
The move to Phase Two means the self-isolation period for cases reduces from 14 days to 10 days, and for contacts from 10 days to seven.
The period of self isolation also applies to household members.
"We've seen that 90 percent of household contacts who were going to test positive do so within those first 10 days," with Omicron, she says, so there are good reasons for the changes.
She advises people to develop a self-isolation plan, including identifying a buddy who can drop off supplies.
She says as cases in the community increase, the government will not be able to provide a place for everyone to go into isolation.
However, if someone does not have their own accommodation - lives in their car, for instance - the government will ensure they have a place to recover.
Anyone experiencing symptoms that get worse during isolation - particularly breathlessness - is advised to call Healthline immediately.
Bloomfield says in Phase Two, contacts will also be followed up differently.
People will not be followed up or expected to isolate having been to a hospitality venue unless they were seated at the same table.
"We will be relying on people to notify the people who might have been at the table ... we won't necessarily be asking everybody in that cafe, including the staff, to isolate."
Ardern says the way to handle this period will be the same as previous times - test, vaccinate and isolate if sick.
"So we are embarking for the first time in the two years since the start of the outbreak into a period where New Zealanders will see more Covid in the community ... it will be nothing like we've experienced to date but our efforts with vaccination mean we have got to this place without the volume of serious illness and death that so many others experienced.
"And still as always be kind and respectful. I know there is Covid fatigue, but I also know that no one wants to let go of the freedoms we've gained from uniting and protecting one another. We need respectful discussion and tolerance as we navigate this next phase together."
Accessing rapid antigen tests
Phase Two also means the start of the test-to-return-to-work scheme. This would allow critical workers to return to work if they return daily rapid antigen tests.
Employees of businesses signing up to the scheme can go to a provider like a vaccination clinic and get a pack of 10 rapid antigen tests.
In some cases, the tests are being provided directly to workforces.
"We've secured enough rapid antigen tests to deal with a widespread Omicron outbreak with 7.2 million in New Zealand now and more arriving over the next week," Ardern says.
Phase Two will also mean a greater emphasis on digital and automation to speed up contact tracing and other official communications.
"We currently have nearly 5000 active Covid cases, and 39 of those are in hospital, none in ICU ... my most important message from this period carries through to the next - get a booster if you haven't already."
She says 1.2 million people who are eligible have not yet got their booster.
Ardern says the government has taken a firm view on the ability of students to engage in education and exams regardless of vaccination status.
She says she has seen some misinformation but children will "never be mandated to be vaccinated, nor will there be any effects on them or their ability to attend, for instance, a school trip that would ever imply a mandate".
Anyone who has symptoms or has been in touch with someone who has tested positive should isolate immediately and get a test.
Ardern says the government is trying to ensure it has the supply of rapid antigen tests to meet the needs of the critical workforces first, instead of them being widely available.
Dr Bloomfield says the ministry is working on advice around that but RATs at the moment will be largely confined to the return-to-work scheme. He says some 22.5 million RATs are expected to be in the country by the end of February.
Ardern says there is capacity to do many more PCR tests than currently being done. "Please if you have symptoms, get a test. It's really important for you and your family."
Ardern says 5620 businesses have completed self-assessments on test-to-return.
Positive case at Parliament
A member of the Press Gallery at Parliament has returned a positive rapid antigen test (RAT) result for Covid-19.
"We know that they [RATs] are not always 100 percent accurate," Ardern says.
The individual has taken a PCR test to confirm if they are infected.
This is the first public case of Covid-19 at Parliament.
The prime minister's briefing comes in the wake of the protest which built to an attendance of 3000 over the weekend despite appalling weather and a constant stream of loud music and Covid-19 vaccination ads - played at the insistence of Speaker Trevor Mallard.
Asked if it was kind for the Speaker to turn on the sprinklers with the protesters there, Ardern says the Speaker and police have the responsibility of upholding the law and ensuring everyone is safe.
She says in her view the protest has stepped beyond merely a protest, with harassment of others and causing the inability of others in Wellington to move around freely.
She says those on the forecourt of Parliament want to see the removal of all public health measures - the very measures that have kept New Zealand safe. "You'll forgive me if I take a very strong view on that suggestion."
Ardern says concerns about loss of business in Wellington CBD, and the protests having led to a loss of business, have been passed on to the police and they have focused on clearing areas that would allow traffic again.
"It's moved beyond sharing a view to intimidation and harassment of the people around central Wellington. That cannot be tolerated and pleased to be advised from police that they're taking steps to address that, but ultimately the management of the protest is for police."
Asked if she is concerned someone might bring a weapon onto Parliament grounds, Ardern says her concern is the safety of everyone who lives and works in this part of Wellington.
She says the decisions around security arrangements falls on police, but she believes everyone should be able to move around freely and safely.
Ardern advised the protesters via Morning Report to go home and take their children with them.
Govt support for businesses
Ardern says some sectors have been significantly down on business because of the Covid-19 Protection Framework - the traffic light system - and Finance Minister Grant Robertson is working on "highly targeted, one-off and short term" measures to support those sectors, which particularly includes hospitality.
She says the government will have more to say on that "very shortly".
The spread of Omicron is also likely to feature at the briefing with cases almost doubling yesterday to a record 810, surpassed today by the announcement of 981 cases.
Prominent epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker also warned today that the real number of cases in Aotearoa could be 10 times the official figure - the real number could be more like 8000.
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