Ardern to announce any changes to traffic light settings

Source: 1News

The Government will be announcing any tweaks to the traffic light system on Thursday, as the threat of the Covid-19 Omicron variant continues to loom.

Orange traffic light.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is also expected to give more details on the Government’s response to Omicron at Labour’s new year retreat in New Plymouth.

It follows a Cabinet meeting late on Wednesday afternoon to review the traffic light system and discuss planning for an Omicron outbreak.

The Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was considering whether the system needed to be strengthened in light of the more transmissible variant.

Meanwhile, leading public health experts are also calling for changes to the country's Covid-19 settings to prevent "huge waves" of Omicron infections.

Ardern has been signalling the variant would make its way into the community, adding that it was a matter of “when, not if”.

She said on Monday that if there was an Omicron outbreak, "we would look to move into red settings as a way to slow down the spread".

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there had been discussions about Omicron over the summer break.

“A lot of planning work has gone into how we will deal with Omicron when it does make it into the New Zealand community," Hipkins said on Wednesday.

"Any changes around the framework, we'll talk a little bit about that [on Thursday], we're obviously talking about that at Cabinet today, but we will make further announcements on that."

The Government had been taking steps to try and delay Omicron’s entry into the community, including pushing back home isolation reopening dates to late February and pausing a lottery for MIQ spots on Tuesday.

Hipkins said the Government would focus on getting booster rates up and immunising eligible children "before Omicron takes hold in the community".

ACT's David Seymour said the Government needed to prioritise and ensure vulnerable people had their booster shot, as an outbreak of Omicron was only "a question of when".

"What we're doing is futile, it's going to be out. We might get a few extra days, maybe weeks, does that outweigh the cost we are putting on people," Seymour said in reference to MIQ pauses.

He criticised the Government for not revealing more of its plan on Wednesday.

“Four weeks since Chris Hipkins last fronted on the Covid-19 response, he couldn’t tell New Zealanders anything new about how the Government will confront the imminent landfall of Omicron,” Seymour said of Hipkins’ comments as he fronted the media early on Wednesday afternoon.

“Hipkins’ press conference was filled with suggestions of opening up, cut short by the need to wait for Cabinet.”

Seymour said people wanted to know whether schools would stay open, who would need to isolate and for how long, whether the border would remain closed, and how it would boost “insufficient” hospital capacity during an Omicron outbreak.

All regions, apart from Northland, were placed in the Orange setting of the traffic light system in December. Northland was placed in Red over the summer break due to its comparatively lower vaccination rate.