New Zealand turns red tonight – Omicron running in Auckland, possibly South Island, PM says
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that New Zealand will go through a red light at midnight tonight.
Nine Covid cases in Motueka are confirmed to have the Omicron variant, Ardern said.
They attended a wedding in Auckland on January 13 and another event a few days later. These events brought together more than 100 people.
Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson area, if not further afield, Ardern said.
The government will take a three-step approach to the point where New Zealand will see 1,000 cases a day, Ardern said.
The first step will be the familiar approach to eradication, with contact tracing and testing, including rapid antigen tests. The second stage will be a transition stage. Stage three will see changes to contact tracing, and further details on all three stages will be released at a later date, Ardern said.
Ardern said the focus is now on getting reminders and wearing masks.
Given our low number of Delta cases, we have the ability in our system to slow down the virus, Ardern said.
“The difference with previous epidemics is that we are now well vaccinated and well prepared,” she said.
Each region will turn red, regardless of whether that area has had a confirmed case of Omicron. “The evidence from abroad suggests it’s moving very quickly,” Ardern said.
“Red will make the difference,” she said, as high-risk events will not be allowed.
Education centers remain open but with additional health measures, including fourth grade and up, there will be a need to wear masks, Ardern said.
Red is the most restrictive traffic light setting, but domestic travel can continue. There would be no more borders around the regions, like the recent borders of Auckland.
Although the lockdowns are not widespread, there could be localized lockdowns at a workplace or school, for example, depending on what was happening during the outbreak.
In red, face coverings are mandatory when traveling on public transport, in retail and to some extent in education. Public facilities and outlets are open, with capacity limits.
A move to the red light setting will mean more restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
With a vaccine pass, many businesses and events can accommodate up to 100 people, including hospitality, gyms, weddings and tangihanga. Without a pass, reception services must remain contactless and the aforementioned gatherings are limited to 25 people.
Tertiary students must study remotely if they do not have a vaccine pass. Gyms and close-contact businesses like hairdressers and beauty salons can open red as long as public health measures are in place.
This decision will be a cruel blow to the hospitality of businesses in Northland, which only turned orange this week.
The decision to go red was based on genome sequencing results for several Covid cases with no clear link to the border.
An Air NZ crew member has been linked to nine cases in the Nelson area, and genome sequencing has now confirmed the man, and nine Covid-positive people in Motueka linked to him have the Omicron variant .
The crew member was potentially infectious while working on five Air New Zealand flights, which are now places of interest.
Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield today said it was very important that the first infected person at Motukea be tested. “We’re really grateful for that,” he said.
There will be people outside of Nelson and Auckland who have traveled to those areas and been encouraged to get tested, he said.
Bloomfield said there were five domestic flights on which these cases were contagious. 150 people on these flights have been contacted and these efforts continued this morning.
Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield said it was very important that the first infected person at Motukea be tested. Photo/Mark Mitchell
So far, six people have been confirmed infected with Omicron in the community after the highly contagious variant passed through border controls.
This included two Auckland airport workers, one MIQ staff member, two close contacts and another person who spent two days traveling to Palmerston North while potentially infectious after being released from MIQ.
schools to open
Despite Omicron, schools will still open as planned, Ardern said today.
One of the most important things people can do is have a buddy so that if one gets infected the other can help deliver food and support them, Ardern said,
Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said he wants to see more face-to-face learning this year, and schools will deal with the virus differently than they have in the past two years.
But he says it’s possible some schools may have to switch to home learning if they are understaffed because so many teachers have been exposed to Covid.
Children will experience disruption if they, a close contact or someone in their household are sick, but otherwise they will be in school and in the classroom, Hipkins said.
Epidemiologist professors Michael Baker and Rod Jackson have urged the government to go further than changing traffic lights and cut eligibility for booster shots from four to three months, as Australia has just announced.
About 56% of eligible adults have already received their booster.
But Baker, of the University of Otago, said changes in our own behavior, via the traffic light system, would have a big impact in blunting the blow of an Omicron wave.
“Limiting the size of gatherings will make a big difference – and working from home should certainly be encouraged.”
Jackson, of the University of Auckland, argued that a delay in the start of the school year – as others have called for – could help reduce the number of cases.
“It’s a major setting for super-spreading, and it’s not that kids themselves are getting incredibly sick — it’s that they’re infecting their teachers, parents, and grandparents,” Jackson said.
“I understand it’s controversial in terms of disrupting everything, but we have one goal, and one goal only – and that’s to flatten the peak.
“We’re not going to stop Omicron, but we can slow him down.”