- Only confirmed cases and their household contacts should be isolated
- All other contacts are now asked to monitor for symptoms but do not have to self-isolate
- Rapid antigen tests (RATs) will become the main form of testing in the community with availability from thousands of sites across the country, including pharmacies and GP surgeries, over the next few days
- Approved RATs will be available for sale to the public at retail outlets from March
Ministers have confirmed the move to the next phase of the government’s Omicron response from 11.59pm tonight (Thursday February 24), Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.
“With thousands of daily cases and a steep rise expected over the next few weeks, now is the time to implement the next stage of our plan that will keep New Zealand through Omicron’s peak,” said Hipkins.
“These changes will alleviate some of the pressure on our testing and contact tracing services over the next three to six weeks, while helping to ensure that critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy continues. to move.
“There is no doubt that the next few weeks are going to be difficult, but New Zealand is better placed than most countries to respond to Omicron. What we see is what we expected. We just need to stick to our plan as we handle a higher number of cases in the coming weeks before we hit our peak.
“Because so many of us get vaccinated and Omicron is less severe, we can have a more decentralized response and much more self-management. Care and support will continue to be there for those who need it most, as it always has been.
“Preparation and mutual support will be key. We’ve been asking people to prepare for the past few weeks, both mentally and by putting plans in place. Make an isolation plan or “stay at home” kit with friends and whānau, and be prepared to use the tools available to help direct resources towards protecting the most vulnerable.
“Community providers have resources to provide care in the community, especially to vulnerable populations, and health and wellness support services to complement clinical care will focus on those with high needs.
“From now on, the number of hospitalizations will replace the number of cases as the key indicator.”
Hipkins said New Zealand is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, which means for most people Omicron will be a mild to moderate illness.
“This should make the next period less of a concern for the vast majority of people. But we still strongly encourage people to get a boost. You are much less likely to need hospital care and new evidence shows it helps reduce the likelihood of getting infected and transmitting Covid-19 to others. So please for those who are not yet boosted, this is now urgent.
“There are three major changes in the way we will manage this phase:
“From midnight tonight, close contacts will no longer be required 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 must self-isolate for 10 days, but can now self-discharge after the 10th day, provided all testing requirements are met. If they develop symptoms, they are encouraged to get tested sooner.
“We continue to support our essential services to function. The Critical Worker Exemption Program we announced this month will allow eligible household contacts to return to work during their periods of self-isolation by returning a daily negative rapid antigen test, and should it become necessary, we may consider support probable or confirmed cases to return to work.
“There are also changes to how we test and who should get tested,” Hipkins said.
“With millions of RATs now distributed nationwide to testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and workplaces, RATs will become the primary form of testing. You can now access a RAT from hundreds of locations across the country making it much easier to get tested and over the next few days the number of access points will increase dramatically.
“Locations that have RATs available can be found on the HealthPoint website. PCR tests will be reserved for people who are clinically indicated to need them. A PCR test will no longer be required to verify a positive RAT result.
“In addition, approved RATs will soon be available for sale to the public through retail outlets. This will provide choice and access to the general public and small businesses.
“As a country, we are moving towards a position of increased self-management. This will include the use of a new self-investigation tool that will help positive cases self-notify contacts.
“Because only household contacts are needed to self-isolate, the tool will help us track high-risk events or locations of exposure. Contact tracing teams will now focus on identifying and tracing those who have visited these high-risk places such as hospitals or aged care facilities.
“There will be continued support for members of our community who are not digitally set up.”