New Zealand awaits Omicron in the community to go into Red Setting

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But no more lockdowns, regional border closures

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a Media Conference (Screen Grab)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 20, 2022

There are no plans (as yet) to open MIQ bookings but New Zealand is getting ready to combat Omicron which has been described as the fastest spreading Covid-19 variant but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that the government is ready to take on the challenges.

Read Setting if Omicron spreads

The first change that will be enforced is to move the entire country to Red under the Traffic Lights System of the Protection Network, which will allow movement of people and all businesses to remain open but with restrictions.

Events and social gatherings will be restricted to 100 people, facial covering while travelling and while in public places and social distancing will all be mandatory.

But we are not there yet.

Ms Ardern announced at a media conference in New Plymouth where she is leading the Labour Party Caucus Retreat that Northland will move to Orange setting from 11.59 pm tonight (January 20, 2022) from its current Red Light setting.

She said that Vaccination rates have continued to increase in Northland and that currently, about 89% of the population in that region have had the first dose.

“The easing of the Auckland boundary over summer did not drive an increase in cases and hence we believe that it is safe for Northland to join the rest of the country at Orange. The spread of Covid-19 over summer was limited because of exceptional vaccination rates, public health teams continuing to stamp out cases, and the Covid protection framework working as expected,” Ms Ardern said.

Ready for the challenge

She said that New Zealand is ready to fight Omicron.

“However, Omicron is more transmissible and will be more challenging. If it is found in the community, the entire country will move to Red setting within 24 to 48 hours. We will not be able to stop Omicron from entering the community, but we can use tools to try and slow it down. We must be on guard, and ready,” Ms Ardern said.

Paying tributes to New Zealanders for keeping Delta case numbers low despite the opening of Auckland’s borders, Ms Ardern said that preparations for Omicron will continue.

She ruled out lockdowns to control the pandemic.

“Instead, the whole country will move to the Red setting. Businesses will remain open and regional boundaries will not be closed. People can protect themselves against the Virus through vaccination and booster shots. Children in the 5-11 age groups can also be vaccinated. When Covid changes, we also change,” she said.

Manageable illness

Omicron will be a manageable illness for most, if not for all people and New Zealand will continue to work hard to keep cases as low as possible, she said.

“Not many countries have had a chance to roll out a booster before Omicron hit them, but we have done so. It is an opportunity that is available to all,” she said.

Genome sequencing today confirmed that an Auckland Airport worker who tested positive for Covid-19 has the Omicron variant. This information came as a household contact of a MIQ worker with Omicron was also confirmed to have the variant.

Ms Ardern said as before people who were close contacts of cases would need to isolate.

“The government is working to provide the healthcare and social services as needed, but most people will be able to receive care at home. We have the capacity to undertake 40,000 tests a day without putting a strain on our system. We know that with a wider spread, this system will need to change,” she said.

Rapid Antigen Tests will also be available more widely, and these will be useful when case numbers are high, she said.

Opening of the international border

The government remains ambiguous about MIQ bookings and the opening of international borders. While there is a ‘pause’ on bookings because of the rising number of Omicron cases at the border, Mr Hipkins said that the Cabinet will discuss this issue further and decide whether bookings will be available in March or April.

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