Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that there would be no lockdowns when Omicron enters the community and that Northland will join the rest of New Zealand in observing the orange traffic light settings beginning at midnight today, January 20.
According to Ardern, the government was aware based on experiences of other nations that it could take as short as 14 days for Omicron cases to multiply from hundreds to thousands.
She claims that once Omicron joins the community, the entire country would turn red within 24-48 hours.
The statement comes as there are growing concerns that Omicron has reached Palmerston North. According to the Ministry of Health, there are now 39 Covid-19 cases in the community.
At the border, 46 additional cases were discovered. Twenty-one patients are currently in the hospital, including one in the intensive care unit.
No lockdown but Omicron fear is growing in Palmerston North
Four Omicron cases have been reported in the community, raising concerns.
According to the government, there is one potential Omicron case in Palmerston North.
The suspected Palmerston North case is said to have been infectious since January 17, with exposure episodes including a visit to an early childcare institution.
This patient was held in a MIQ facility in Christchurch and tested negative on day 9, before being discharged on January 16 after providing five negative test results throughout their quarantine and isolation.
The patient had symptoms yesterday, January 19, and was tested, yielding a positive Covid-19 test result yesterday evening.
The double-vaxxed patient is now confined to their house with their family.
Urgent whole-genome sequencing is underway since the patient was at a MIQ facility at the same time as other known Omicron cases and is being handled as an Omicron case as a precaution. The source of the virus, including probable in-facility transmission, is being investigated.
Meanwhile, two more Auckland residents have been verified to have the Omicron variant, and a number of high-risk areas have been added to the list of likely threats. This takes the overall number of potential Omicron cases in the neighbourhood to four.
In addition to the Palmerston North case, genomic testing has revealed that an Auckland airport worker and a household contact of the MIQ worker with Omicron contracted the Covid variant.
Yesterday, the two tested positive.
According to the government, one more person linked to the Auckland Omicron cases tested positive for Covid-19.
This case included a MIQ worker’s household contact who was already isolated when they tested positive.
The genome is being sequenced, although the Omicron variant is expected to be present.
As of this morning, a total of 88 close contacts in regard to the MIQ border worker with Omicron had been found.
At this point, 84 tests have produced negative results, while two have yielded positive results.
In regard to the worker at Auckland Airport, a total of 39 contacts have been uncovered.
So far, 13 of them have had negative Covid test results.
In the meanwhile, an inquiry into the source of the virus is underway.
How New Zealand will combat Omicron despite no lockdown
Few nations, according to Ardern, have had the chance to implement a nationwide booster rollout before Omicron starts to spread, but New Zealand did.
Ardern said she was encouraging people to consider what they would need if they or a family member were diagnosed with Omicron and had to stay at home for an extended length of time.
Ardern stated that a graduated system was being designed for the different stages of the pandemic, while no lockdown is being considered at the moment.
The approach for hospitals was centred on prevention. Ardern stated, the people couldn’t stop Omicron, but they could slow it down.
When asked if anything further was being done for hospitals, Ardern stated that work had already been completed with Delta.
New Zealanders must now take efforts to prevent the Omicron variant from infecting hospitals, according to Ardern.
“We have cases knocking at our door. We’ve had cases obviously increase at the border. But it is a case of when, not if. So we need to use every day to prepare,” Ardern said
Lockdowns, according to Ardern, were not integrated into the Covid-19 Protection Framework and would not be utilized in the same manner they were in 2020 and 2021. Ardern stated, “We have vaccines to support us and other mechanisms to slow Omicron down.”
According to Ardern, Omicron was exhibiting the speed with which it moves, with mask use, social distance, and reduced gathering sizes being an emphasis.
New Zealand has a system that has served them well, but the government plans to offer a “graduated” system next week, according to Ardern.
Although Omicron makes an elimination plan very difficult, she claims that the government now has more tools than ever before.
Ardern stated that no decision had been made on border adjustments and that she would not comment on any hypothetical case.
In terms of getting out of the red traffic light setting, Ardern stated that she would look at things like whether hospitals or healthcare were functioning properly.
Northland on orange traffic light setting
Northland will transition to orange, and the rest of New Zealand will remain there while the government prepares for Omicron to join the community, Ardern said. There is no lockdown in an orange setting.
“Vaccination rates have continued to increase in Northland and are now at 89 per cent first dose. The easing of the Auckland boundary over summer did not drive an increase in cases so we believe it is safe for Northland to join the rest of the country at orange,” Ardern said.
“We won’t be able to stop Omicron [from] entering the community, but we can use tools to try and slow it down. We need to be on guard, and ready so that is why the country will remain at orange on an Omicron preparedness setting.
“New Zealand has done an incredible job in reducing Delta case numbers especially in light of the Auckland boundary lifting last month and holiday travel. By staying at orange we will be able to hold onto these gains while we continue to make preparations for Omicron.
Allowed activities during red and orange traffic light settings
The red setting would enable business establishments to stay open and domestic flights to continue but would impose wearing of masks and gathering limitations in order to halt the spread of the virus and relieve pressure on our healthcare system.
People can go about their daily lives at orange. There are limits in place to prevent the virus’s spread and safeguard susceptible persons. However, you can go to work, school, gyms, places of worship, restaurants, and a variety of other venues. No lockdown is expected in red and orange settings.
Most business establishments can open with no number limitations provided they meet My Vaccine Pass requirements and only allow those who have My Vaccine Pass to enter.
If they do not comply with My Vaccine Pass requirements, the number of persons who can be at a place at the same time will be limited.
At its height, Omicron’s daily numbers would vastly outnumber Delta’s more than 200 instances in a single day, maybe reaching the thousands.