Border settings to be reassessed early Jan as Omicron looms

Source: 1News

The Government and health officials will meet early next month to discuss the threat of the Omicron variant and its potential impact on New Zealand's border reopening.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at Monday's post-Cabinet address there would be a "check-in" in early January to evaluate the threat of Omicron prior to when the border rules change on January 17, allowing New Zealand citizens in Australia to self-isolate upon arrival rather than stay in MIQ.

Ardern remained firm that there were no plans to change the scheduled timeline of the border reopening, but said it was important to hear the evidence of any threat the new variant may have on the country prior to the move.

"We haven’t changed our plans, we haven’t changed the timelines we’ve set out. But it’s important we have that check-in before they come in to make sure we’re still comfortable based on the latest advice we have on Omicron," Ardern said.

However, the Prime Minister said it was "unrealistic" to say the plan would not change if the evidence showed Omicron to be a danger to the country.

"I do want to give comfort to people that if there is evidence that suggests to us that there would be a marked, negative impact on New Zealand then we need to listen to that."

Ardern noted that many countries had already implemented new measures to account for the spread of the variant.

In the UK, booster shots are quickly being rolled out as prime minister Boris Johnson warned of a "tidal wave" of Omicron cases across the country.

Meanwhile, Australia is expected to reduce the wait time between second shots and boosters from six months to five, having seen evidence booster jabs led to a reduction in infection rates.

However, word out of South Africa is that the Omicron variant is not as deadly as Delta, with one doctor saying that while he was seeing dozens of cases a day, they were not sick enough to require hospitalisation.

The current plan for New Zealand sees a staged reopening of the border, starting with fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens in Australia being able to enter the country without going through MIQ and instead go through seven days of home isolation.

From February 14, fully vaccinated NZ citizens, residence-class visa holders and other travellers eligible under current border settings can visit from most other countries, except those considered 'very high risk', and go through the home isolation requirement.

From April 30, New Zealand is set to open back up to international visitors in stages, possibly based on their visas, and will also need to go through home isolation.