Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned that New Zealand would return to red traffic light setting if there is outbreak of the Omicron variant. On January 16, a community case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was confirmed. The case is a MIQ border worker in Auckland and has 50 close contacts.
Border worker tested positive for Omicron variant
The worker, who had been infected since the 10th of January, rode two bus services in Auckland and visited a supermarket and four other establishments. He returned a positive test result after being tested as part of routine testing.
All of the seven known household contacts of the case have previously been contacted, isolated, and tested, and the results have been negative.
The case and one family contact are currently being isolated at a MIQ facility. The remaining home contacts have been isolated in Auckland and Taupo.
A further 48 close contacts are being called; 15 of them, including five in Taupo, have returned a negative test.
The worker, who had been infected since the 10th of January, rode two bus services in Auckland and visited a supermarket and four other establishments.
The supermarket and four other establishments that the worker visited on January 10, as well as portions of the MIQ facility, are deemed high-risk, and the Ministry of Health recommends that anybody in Auckland experiencing symptoms be tested.
The Ministry of Health’s website has all of the most recent points of interest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that the individual had followed the standard procedures “everything by the book” and acted cautiously.
She stated that health experts were working quickly to notify all close contacts.
“At this stage, however, it looks like it has been found relatively early. We have a good list of those who we are seeking, and at this stage it’s looking like our contact tracing is able to do the work for us.”
She believes that the Omicron variant will eventually spread in the community.
“What the most recent case in a MIF (managed isolation facility) worker demonstrates is that our systems are playing a very important role in working to try and hold Omicron at our border.”
That is why, according to Ardern, the government is urging individuals to stay up to date on their vaccines.
“We’ve brought forward boosters because we know it has an impact in protecting people from severe illness with Omicron, so please if you’re eligible, go out and get your booster and help us prepare.”
Spread of Omicron variant is imminent
In a press conference on January 17, Ardern stated that when it comes to Omicron variant in the community, it is a matter of when, not if.
“New Zealanders have had the break that we hoped they would get but we know that with Omicron it is a case of when, not if, and that is why the booster campaign is just so critical.”
Last year, University of Otago public health professor Michael Baker recommended that “if we’re serious about keeping Omicron out, we’ll need to retain MIQ.”
“And that’s a tough call. There are thousands of energized expats. There will be a lot of pressure to continue with that (reopening) plan…that will be the toughest decision for the government: how to manage expectations at the border,” he added.
New Zealand would signal red traffic light if there is Omicron outbreak
If the Omicron variant spreads across the neighbourhood, the government would consider switching to a red traffic signal, according to Ardern.
“What I expect is over the coming weeks to be able to share with you some of the additional preparation that has been done over and above the work that we did on Delta, for the specific issue of Omicron and what it represents. We have the ability to learn from other nations and see the impact or the way that Omicron is behaving and prepare ourselves.”
She claims that improvements will be made to the way testing, isolation, and contact tracing are done, and that more information will be given in the following weeks.
“We’ve managed to get Delta down to extraordinarily low levels, that means the risk posed by opening that border, now is very low. We are in the right place now to remove those requirements.”
According to Ardern, the traffic light system was built to deal with surges, breakouts, and the possibility of new varieties. She claims that the red setting’s precautions are intended to limit the spread of a variant like Omicron.
She said another update on traffic light settings will be provided on Thursday.
Vaccination passes do not presently include the booster. Ardern said the possibility of incorporating it in the future is still on the table, but having a booster is still the best method to defend the population against the Omicron variant.
“We’re doing what we can but I think it would be wrong to assume those border measures will be sufficient. At some point we will see Omicron in the community … we should always assume at any time.”
Vaccination for children
More than 120,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19 for children are ready to go at clinics across the country, with the rollout beginning on January 17..
Tamariki from five to eleven years old are qualified for the first of two recommended dosages, which are eight weeks apart.
Ardern says it’s encouraging to see people lined up on January 17 to be the first through the door at vaccination centers, and that lines are moving rapidly.
Peeni Henare, Whnau Ora Minister and Associate Health Minister, says the government has been working very closely with iwi leadership to ensure that tamariki can obtain the vaccination, and is looking ahead to when schools reopen.
January 17 marks another historic moment in New Zealand’s immunization effort, according to Ardern.
Boosters have been available in New Zealand since early January, and online bookings are now available.
“For children of course they are able to be booked in now via Book My Vaccine … we’ve heard that whānau are coming in to get both their booster and to bring their children in to be vaccinated as well.”
Ardern received a booster dose of the Covid-19 immunization on January 17.
She claims that by the end of February, 80 percent of the country’s population might be increased.
She thanked everyone who had contributed money so far to get the booster roll-out started.
She claims that more over half of the eligible New Zealanders have received their booster.
The internet traffic on the government’s vaccine registration website has been strong on January 17, she adds, with more than 66,000 individuals booking before lunchtime, compared to approximately 12,000 on previous recent days.
Covid cases update
As of January 16, there are 25 new Covid-19 cases in the community and 43 at MIQ.
The new community cases are in Auckland (15), Northland (1), Rotorua (2), Bay of Plenty (3), Hamilton (1), Ngruawhia (1), Hastings (2), and Wellington (1).
Cases came at the border from Australia, France, India, the United Kingdom, Fiji, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Ireland.
There are currently 22 persons in the hospital, two of them are in critical care or HDU.