The country has woken to a new era in its Covid-19 response, with a shift to personal testing and reporting as the virus runs rampant.
There were 6137 new community cases of Covid-19 and one death reported yesterday – an increase of 86 per cent on Wednesday’s number and not something New Zealand has not seen on a national scale.
The ministry also announced there were 205 people in hospital – more than double the previous daily record of 93 during the peak of the Delta outbreak last year.
Importantly though there were just two people in intensive care, which experts put down to high overall vaccination and still-rising booster rates.
The rising case numbers, pressures on testing stations and number of people needing to isolate has heralded a shift to phase 3 of the Omicron response today, with reduced self-isolation requirements and a focus on rapid antigen tests (RATs) and self-reporting.
Now, only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will need to isolate for 10 days.
A PCR test will also no longer be required to verify a positive RAT result – and RATs will be available across the country from testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and within workplaces. People will be able to self-report their positive results and notify contacts.
RATs will be free to those who require them for testing, and available for purchase for about $8 to $10.
The changes to isolation requirements have raised questions around overseas arrivals into the country.
There were just eight cases detected at the border on Thursday – a figure that has been steadily declining since in the 50s in mid-January as countries around the world move away from their Omicron peaks.
Vaccinated Kiwis will be able to fly into New Zealand from Australia without having to go into MIQ from 11.59pm on Sunday, February 27. However, they will still be required to self-isolate for seven days, despite also having to produce a negative pre-departure test.
This is in contrast to the fact people in New Zealand who have come into contact with positive Covid-19 cases will no longer need to self-isolate.
The border will be progressively opened to the rest of the world in the coming months but travellers from overseas will also be required to self-isolate at this stage.
Hipkins said the Government was reviewing self-isolation requirements for people coming into the country, and would make decisions in the next month.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s Ann-Marie Johnson said with self-isolation requirements, New Zealand would “remain off the radar for high-value international holidaymakers”.
“Few people will want to spend the first few days of their New Zealand holiday in self-isolation.
“The sooner we can signal intentions and timelines for reopening both our air and maritime borders without the requirement for self-isolation, the sooner tourism operators can get back to doing what they do best.”
Act Party leader David Seymour has also been calling for an end to MIQ for similar reasons. On Thursday his party released new Covid-19 policy, which called for a dramatic reduction in restrictions, citing the higher infectiousness and lower virulence of the Omicron variant.
This included for people to only self-isolate until they returned a negative test result, and ending all vaccine requirements.
National Party Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said the mass reliance now on RATs had shown how unprepared the Government had been.
“Testing capacity in New Zealand is already overwhelmed. People trying to do the right thing and get tested are waiting in queues for hours and then up to seven days for the results.
“New Zealand has a massive shortage of tests because the Government didn’t order enough, early enough.”
Responses to Written Parliamentary Questions showed the Government had only ordered 13.2 million tests by the end of 2021, and only started ordering in November.
“Meanwhile, everyone in England has been able to order 14 tests a week since April 2021,” Bishop said.
Covid-19 modeller Dr Dion O’Neale said the change to RATs and self-testing and close contact definitions meant people could find out if they were infectious faster, but also meant some cases could not be reported.
O’Neale said the Government should carry out infection prevalence surveys, similar to in the United Kingdom, to thus determine wider levels of transmission.
Meanwhile,the protest site at Parliament has been labelled a location of interest after the Ministry of Health reported at least two positive cases had attended.
All attendees on Saturday and Sunday were deemed close contacts, but because of the shift to phase 3 no longer need to self-isolate.
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