‘Omicron is going to be really messy,' epidemiologist says

Source: 1News

A leading epidemiologist says an outbreak of Omicron will be "messy" for New Zealand as essential workers, who've kept the country going through the pandemic, could be hit hard first.

It follows a Government announcement on Thursday over the plans in place, ahead of what looks like an unavoidable outbreak of Omicron.

If there is evidence of Omicron community transmission, the whole of New Zealand will move into the Red traffic light setting within 24 - 48 hours, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today.

University of Auckland epidemiology professor Rod Jackson told 1News that "Omicron is going to be really messy".

"It's less severe for each person, but it's more severe for the country, not just hospitals, it's supermarkets, it's businesses," he says.

It also means essential workers, in supermarkets, transport and health, who've kept the country going through the pandemic could be hit hard first.

"We've been working to try and get workplaces ready and get workplaces and workers protected," First Union's Ben Peterson says.

"If people are having to choose between getting paid and doing the right thing for their sickness and by society to isolate, people will choose getting paid because life is expensive," he says.

Read more: Omicron in NZ a matter of 'when, not if' - Jacinda Ardern

However, the Government has confirmed the sick leave payment will continue, to ensure people who are unwell can take time off.

But there's some disappointment the country will have to wait another week to see what the Government's new 'graduated system' targeted at Omicron looks like.

"We've got businesses asking about rapid antigen tests (RATs), asking about the use of masks, asking how MIQ is going to work, asking about what sort of compensation can they get if workers can't work," Brett O'Riley, Chief Executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (EMA) says.

Jackson says "the two most important things the Government needs to improve in implementing the graduated system is regional boundaries, once it [Omicron] starts getting out the other thing is probably reduced numbers of people at hospitality venues".

RATs are a key part of the Government's preparation and there's confirmation they will be free to the community, with millions more on the way.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says while "the whole world is in a battle for supply" of RATs, the Government is continuing to work with businesses, saying "they can buy them now".

When it comes to preparation, supermarkets say there are no major supply chain problems but contingency plans are being put in place.

O'Riley is less optimistic.

"We're absolutely not ready, we don't have the tools in place," he says.