Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: PM promises ‘light’ as cases skyrocket

The country is facing another week of grim records as Covid cases continue to rocket, with one principal warning school children will be on a “rolling carousel” in and out of isolation.

The impact of Covid is starting to put strain on organisations as large numbers of school students are isolating at home today.

Some workplaces have been forced to close their doors, including the Hamilton City Council-run Gallagher Aquatic Centre which has had to shut for the week after several key members are isolating due to being close contacts.

Staff and residents at Summerset Manukau’s care centre have tested negative for Covid despite a fellow resident testing positive at the weekend, according to an email sent to family members from management. The resident is not currently in the care centre and the centre remains locked down.

But despite a record number of cases and hospitalisations yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will this afternoon shed some light on what public health measures could look like in the future once the country has got through the Omicron peak.

However, this morning she ruled out ditching mandates while New Zealand’s Covid cases continued on an upwards trajectory.

Ardern told TVNZ’s Breakfast the country had worked together as a team for two years and now is not the time to take off the armour built during that time.

“Now is not the time to pull of all the armour right when the enemy has arrived at the doorstep,” she told the AM Show.

PM promises to give details about the Government's future response

Ardern would this afternoon address questions New Zealanders had by talking a little bit more about “what the future looked like” and what the public health measures would be going forward.

Mandates applied to areas working with vulnerable people such as the healthcare, education, defence force and at the border – but would not always be there, she said.

“We do have a rough few weeks ahead of us. We need to get through that, but there is also light and we will keep changing and easing the protections that have kept us all so safe.”

Her job was to think about the elderly, the immunocompromised and other vulnerable Kiwis who would be hugely affected by an ongoing Omicron outbreak.

“The light will start to get bigger and brighter.”

Aucklanders to be given RATs at testing stations

Auckland is the first region to start screening people at testing sites due to massive demand for tests which saw an average of 27,000 tests a day being processed last week.

From this morning, people turning up to Auckland testing stations who are deemed close contacts but don’t have symptoms will be given a rapid antigen test (RAT) to do at home.

Those who will continue to have a PCR test will either be symptomatic or have returned a positive RAT first.

Northern Region Health Coordination Centre operations director Matt Hannant told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking the initiative will help to relieve pressure.

He said the test positivity rate is increasing, and across some areas this was higher than 6 per cent.

“The labs are under a lot of pressure at the moment and we’ve had the positivity rate go up and so they’re not able to pool their samples as much – so rolling out the RATs initiative today we want to make sure we take that pressure off while making sure everyone who needs a test can get a test.”

Speaking to AM, Hannant said there would be some flexibility on the site to make sure they were targeting the right people.

They had more than enough RATs to meet the demand they had. There were currently seven million RATs in the country and more coming in this week.

“We do have more than enough for each site.”

As Omicron spreads around the country there are reports of long queues for tests. People were forced to wait up to four hours for tests at Hamilton’s two main testing stations yesterday.

Phase two of the Omicron response plan was about protecting the vulnerable within the community and making sure the system had the protection it needed and that resources weren’t overwhelmed.

The majority of people who contracted Omicron would have a mild illness. Those who were vaccinated and asymptomatic were less likely to pass it onto other people, Hannant said.

School children will be on a "rolling carousel" in and out of isolation

With more than 1700 Covid cases in Auckland alone, Auckland Primary Principal’s Association president Stephen Lethbridge told AM there would be a significant number of children who would be isolating at home today.

There would be a “rolling carousel” of children coming in and out of isolation, staying at home and coming back to school.

He believed it was still important for children to be at school when they could be and schools had remote learning packs on hand and online learning portals children could access.

If a whole class had to isolate, then all of the learning would probably move online.

Top doctor wants isolation period for close contacts reduced

But Council of Medical Colleges chair John Bonning wants the current 10-day isolation period for household contacts reduced.

Combined with high vaccination rates, Omicron was causing much less serious illness among vaccinated people and that meant some changes could be made, he said.

“I’m still in favour of fairly widespread testing but [not] just locking people up in their homes for 10 days not able to go to work – this will be nurses, teachers, people who work in the food industry,” he said.

Bonning was clear that many public health measures needed to stay, and any changes should be step by step.

Vaccine mandates were still crucial to protect people, particularly vulnerable populations, and mask-wearing was necessary, he said.

But there was some sensible middle ground that could help to keep the country moving and prevent workplaces having a quarter of their staff at home isolating, Bonning said.

“I don’t want it to be a wild swing across to ‘right let’s just abandon everything and go about life completely as normal tomorrow’ but it’s about being agile,” he said.

The response to this point had been the right one, he said.

He favoured not reporting daily case numbers anymore, instead reporting hospitalisation rates.

“It’s about reducing some of the anxiety that’s built up over the last few years,” he said.

“I’m not talking about people going out there and intentionally getting it either, but it’s just nowhere near as bad as Delta and it’s part of our path out of the pandemic,” he said.

Case numbers continue to rise

Some 1799 of yesterday’s 2522 new cases were in Auckland, but cases are growing rapidly in other areas.

There are 188 in Waikato, 111 in the Southern DHB area, 86 in Bay of Plenty, 53 in Nelson Marlborough and 54 in Capital and Coast.

Other cases were recorded in Northland (41), Canterbury (76), Hutt Valley (25), Hawke’s Bay (24), MidCentral (13), Lakes (11), Wairarapa (14), Tairāwhiti (12), Taranaki (9) and Whanganui (2) and South Canterbury (1). Three other cases are in an unspecified location.

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