More details of three staged Omicron plan released

More details of the three staged plan the Government will roll out as Omicron spreads around New Zealand have been released.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall.

Isolation periods will be decreased for phases two and three, a definition of a close contact will be narrowed at stage three and there will be a greater use of rapid antigen tests as the outbreak continues.

Omicron phased plan.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said Omicron "is indeed milder, but it is far more transmissible".

"This is a uniquely transmissible virus, one of the most transmissible viruses we've seen on the planet, so it provides a unique challenge to health care services."

Phase one - current stage

The first phase remained as the 'stamp-it-out' approach, where there were some cases in the community. To date, there were 56 cases of Omicron in the community.

Announced on Sunday, it was a period where there are less than 1000 cases a day. The current contact tracing and isolation measures would remain, and rapid antigen testing would be increased.

Phase two

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday called it the 'transition stage', where there was a "much more" severe risk of Omicron, and cases had spread in the community.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) would be used in addition to PCR testing for symptomatic people and close contacts. Isolation periods would decrease.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said phase two was to "slow the spread and protect our vulnerable communities".

“We will also change our current testing requirements for critical workers who are close contacts of cases. The prime focus of testing and tracing will be protecting this workforce and those most vulnerable to becoming severely unwell.

“Phase two is where we will see more widespread use of the test to return to work policy where asymptomatic contacts in critical workforces can return a negative rapid antigen test in order to go to work."

To trigger a move to phase two, Verrall said the number of cases would be a factor.

"This is an operational plan. It is a matter of looking across these systems, testing and contact tracing and very carefully evaluating the level of demand so we know when we need to change, and we will be indicating prospectively to people as we see that that's likely to happen.

"The plan is designed to make sure we transition into new systems that can cope with demand."

Phase three

The third was where cases are in the thousands per day. PCR testing would be for priority populations, while symptomatic people or priority people can use a RAT for diagnosis.

RATs would be available at GPs, pharmacies, community testing centres or workplaces for symptomatic or critical workers. Asymptomatic healthcare and critical workers who were close contacts can return to work after a negative RAT.

Ardern said on Sunday this stage would likely not be for at least a few weeks.

Verrall said the definition of contacts will change to household and household-like contacts only.

Verrall said a close contact was currently defined as someone who has 15 minutes of face-to-face contact at a 2 metre distance.

"That definition will evolve and our resources will be more focused at those at the greatest risk.

"This will mean the highest risk contacts will need to isolate," she said.

“Supported self-service, rapid antigen testing for diagnosing Covid and a self-service tool to enable identification of high risk contacts will be significant to respond to the high volumes of Omicron cases."

Isolation

The Ministry of Health on Friday extended the timeframe for Covid-19 cases and their close contacts due to Omicron’s infectiousness. But under phase two and three, that would revert back to the shortened version, with cases isolating for at least 10 days instead of two weeks, and close contacts isolating for seven days rather than 10 days.

Critical workers

It was announced yesterday that 'critical workers' who were close Covid contacts of cases would soon be able to show proof of a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) to return to work, after outbreaks of Omicron crippled supply chains around the world. This will be rolled out in phase three.