PM Jacinda Ardern reveals new 'traffic light' settings, Northland to move to Orange

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed there won't be lockdowns when Omicron gets into the community and revealed that Northland will join the rest of New Zealand at the orange traffic light settings from midnight tonight.

Ardern said the government knew, from other countries, that it could take as little as 14 days for Omicron cases to grow from the hundreds into the thousands.

The whole of New Zealand will move to red within 24-48 hours once Omicron enters the community, she said.

The announcement comes as there are fears that Omicron has spread to Palmerston North. There are 39 Covid-19 cases in the community today, the Ministry of Health says.

There were 46 new cases detected at the border.

There is one possible Omicron case in Palmerston North, the ministry says.

This case was in a MIQ facility in Christchurch and tested negative on day 9, before being released on 16 January, after returning a negative test result on five occasions throughout their stay.'

The case became symptomatic yesterday and got tested. They returned a positive Covid-19 test result yesterday evening.

Urgent whole genome sequencing is underway though, as this case was staying at a MIQ facility at the same time as known Omicron cases, as a prudent measure it is being treated as a Omicron case. Investigations are underway to determine the source of infection, including possible in-facility transmission.

A further two Delta cases of Covid have been found in Hawke's Bay - taking the total number of cases in the region to six. One of the cases was linked to the Hastings cluster, taking the total number of cases linked to that cluster to five.

Meanwhile two further Auckland people are confirmed to have the Omicron variant and various high-risk premises have been added to the locations of interest.

An Auckland airport worker and a household contact of the MIQ worker with Omicron both also have that variant, genome testing has confirmed.

The pair had both tested positive yesterday.

As of this morning, a total of 88 contacts have been identified in relation to the MIQ border worker with Omicron.

At this stage, 84 have returned negative test results and two have returned a positive result.

A total of 39 contacts have been identified in relation to the worker at Auckland Airport.
So far, 13 have returned negative results.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the source of infection are ongoing.

Northland moves to orange

While Northland would move to orange, the rest of New Zealand will remain at orange as the Government prepares for Omicron to enter the community, Ardern said in a statement.

"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 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.

"We're also confirming today that when we have evidence of Omicron transmitting in the community we won't use lockdowns, instead the whole country will move into Red within 24 to 48 hours."

Ardern said the single most important thing New Zealanders could do to prepare for Omicron was to get their booster dose before it took off in the community.

"International evidence shows that booster doses provide good protection against Omicron, and by achieving high levels of booster protection we will be able to reduce the spread and severity of Omicron when it arrives.

"Boosters also reduce the severity of Omicron and means most people who catch the virus can safely get better at home, rather than needing hospital-level care.
"This is also the time for people to make plans for their households and workplaces, including getting a plan in place for isolating at home if needed.

"For the most part, people will be able to support themselves.

"We're working hard to make sure people who may need support through this period, be it from health care or social services, have what they need. But for the most part, people will be well enough to stay at home with whanau. So think about what you'd need to stay home for that period.

"New case management, close contact definition and testing rules that are fit for purpose for Omicron are being finalised, and include plans to support business continuity.

"For now we're asking everyone to do their part. Make sure you get your booster today," Ardern said.

What we are seeing, Omicron will be a manageable illness for most people, but not everyone. Some will need hospital care, Ardern said.

What can you mean at red & orange

The red setting would allow businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but included mask wearing and gathering restrictions to help slow the spread of the virus and keep pressure off our health system.

At Orange, people can continue to do everyday activities. There are restrictions to limit the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable people. But you can go to work, school, gyms, places of worship, restaurants, and many more places.

Most businesses can open with no restrictions on numbers if they choose to follow My Vaccine Pass requirements, and only allow people with My Vaccine Pass to enter.
If they choose not to follow My Vaccine Pass requirements, there will be limits on the number of people who can be in a venue at one time.

Auckland bars and a cafe have become the latest high-risk premises to be added to the locations of interest.

This comes as an Auckland airport worker and a household contact of the MIQ worker with Omicron both tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday. Genome testing confirmed they have the Omicron variant.

One of the cases visited Ara-Tai Cafe in Halfmoon Bay on Tuesday between 12.30pm and 2pm. Customers seated inside during this time period are considered close contacts.

Partygoers who visited Auckland nightclubs Longroom, Family Bar and Club or AV Club over the weekend have been told to self-isolate.

And this morning, MidCentral health authorities confirmed a case had been detected in Manawatū.

The Government's current strategy is to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible to buy time for boosters and preparation.

It is likely that the whole country will be put into the red traffic light setting once Omicron spreads in the community and the trigger for that shift would be unexplained transmission.

As of yesterday, there had been at least 370 cases of Omicron in MIQ since December 1.

At its peak the daily numbers of Omicron would far exceed the peak of more than 200 cases in one day under Delta and potentially hit the thousands.

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This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.