One Question Quiz
blog jan 26


Phased approach to dealing with omicron revealed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 26. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a news tip or just want to say hi? I’m on Find out how you can support The Spinoff Members here.

The latest

blog jan 26

Phased approach to dealing with omicron revealed

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for January 26. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a news tip or just want to say hi? I’m on Find out how you can support The Spinoff Members here.

The latest

Jan 26 2022

Elton John tests positive for Covid-19 while on tour

Elton John has tested positive for Covid-19.

The British rock legend has been performing in America, but was forced to postpone two concerts in Dallas due to the diagnosis. John is on a seemingly never-ending farewell tour that includes two twice-delayed dates in New Zealand. They’re currently scheduled for early next year.

“It’s always a massive disappointment to move shows and I’m so sorry to anyone who’s been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe,” John wrote on Instagram.

Bloomfield denies ‘commandeering’ rapid Covid tests from businesses

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield speak to media at the Beehive. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has denied seizing private supplies of rapid antigen tests to beef up the government’s own stocks. “We’re not commandeering all the stocks that private businesses have,” said Bloomfield, in response to a report in which businesses claimed the government was doing precisely that.

Speaking at parliament this afternoon, Bloomfield added: “We have discussed with our three main suppliers that forward orders of tests that haven’t yet arrived be consolidated into the government’s stock, so that is there for the whole country, including private businesses. We already have processes in place to supply businesses with tests. This is an interim measure while there’s extremely high demand.”

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall blamed the “global supply chain” for why the government had acquired rapid antigen tests directly at the expense of some local businesses.

It was important, said Bloomfield, to control the distribution of rapid tests. There are currently orders in for around 40 million tests between now and the end of February.

Three-phase response to omicron revealed: isolation period to be cut, PCR tests limited

Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)

The isolation period for confirmed cases of Covid-19, along with their contacts, will drop as case numbers surge.

More details have been revealed about the government’s three-phase approach to slowing the spread of the omicron variant. Along with changes to the isolation period for omicron cases, the definition of a household contact is also set to shift.

Another 15 cases of the highly transmissible variant were confirmed in the community today, with cases now located around both islands.

“Almost no country in the world has escaped omicron and New Zealand is no exception,” said associate health minister Ayesha Verrall at parliament. “But where we can be an exception is how well we minimise the impact of the virus and protect our people from it.”

She added: “Our plan is simple: get boosted, wear a mask, follow basic hygiene rules we’ve become so familiar with and reduce contact as much as is practical.”

Verrall said that, like we have in the past, New Zealand was going “hard and early” with its health response.

Here are the key details of the three phases.

PHASE ONE: ‘Stamp it out’

  • This is the phase we are in now and is similar to the approach taken with delta.
  • Phase one includes the existing contact tracing and isolation requirements and that everyone who is symptomatic be tested at a community testing station or at a primary health provider.
  • “If you are required to isolate, you will receive advice and – if needed – support to do so,” said Verrall. “At this phase you will need to isolate for 14 days if you are a case, and 10 days if you are contact.”

PHASE TWO: ‘Slow the spread’

  • Phase two is expected to kick in when there are around 1000 daily cases of Covid-19. The objective is to slow the spread and protect our vulnerable communities.
  • “The system will be adjusted to focus much more on identifying those who are at greater risk of severe illness from omicron,” said Verrall.
  • During phase two, the isolation period will drop down to 10 days for cases and seven days for contacts in line with “best practice overseas”.
  • Household contacts will actively be managed by contact tracing services, with close contacts requiring a PCR test on day five.
  • There will also be more use of rapid antigen testing at phase two. Verrall said: “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.”
  • Positive cases will be directed to an online portal called the Covid-19 Health Hub, which will have tailored health advice and resources on everything a person needs to know.

PHASE THREE: ‘Self-manage’

  • Phase three will kick in when cases are in the thousands.
  • The definition of contacts will change to household and household-like contacts only. This will mean the highest risk contacts will need to isolate.
  • The majority of people will be supported and be able to self-manage and isolate at home. Clinical care will focus on anyone with high needs. “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,” said Verrall. 
  • Due to the large number of cases per day, the focus of PCR testing will be on priority populations. Symptomatic people or priority populations may use a rapid antigen test for diagnosis. These will be available at GPs, pharmacies, community testing centres or workplaces for symptomatic or critical workers.

Watch live: Verrall to reveal next steps in omicron response

Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall is about to reveal more details about the government’s omicron plans.

Watch live below


Tauranga early childhood centre linked to omicron case

The Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara (Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas)

An early childhood centre in Tauranga has been linked to one of the suspected omicron cases first reported yesterday.

The case was present at the BestStart Pyes Pa on January 19 and was likely infectious at the time.

All people present at the childhood centre at the time are being treated as close contacts, being asked to isolate, and get tested immediately.

“Toi Te Ora Public Health is working with the Ministry of Education to establish a clear view on who was present at the centre on the day and is in the process of contacting those people,” said the Ministry of Health.

Details of testing centres in in Tauranga can be found here.

No new cases have been reported in Bay of Plenty today.

Omicron outbreak grows by 15; Taranaki case confirmed

Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

There are 15 new community cases of the omicron variant, bumping the total number of cases in the January omicron cluster up to 56.

The new cases are in Auckland, Nelson and, as previously reported, Taranaki. There are also new delta cases in Northland, Waikato and Rotorua, with a currently unlinked case also confirmed in Wellington.

Of the total omicron cases, 44 have so far been linked directly or indirectly to an Auckland wedding on the weekend of January 15 and 16. The remaining 12 cases are linked to three omicron-infected border workers.

“The number of cases and contacts are expected to grow given the highly transmissible nature of Omicron and as we learn more from case interviews,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson.

Overall, there are 23 new community cases today including the tail end of the delta outbreak. At the border, 36 new cases were confirmed overnight.

There are now just six people in hospital with Covid-19, none of whom are in intensive care.

Reports of first omicron case in Taranaki

(Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Omicron has spread further around the country, with reports of a positive case in Taranaki.

According to Stuff, the case is linked to an Air New Zealand flight attendant who tested positive for the variant after coming into contact with the Nelson family at the centre of the outbreak.

“Taranaki’s public health unit has started investigation work to determine if there are any locations of interest and says it was expected that we could get some positive results from the flight exposure into New Plymouth,” said an email from the region’s district health board.

Other cases of the omicron strain have been reported in Auckland, Palmerston North, Tauranga and Nelson.

While the Ministry of Health has not yet sent out today’s official update, it’s likely the case will be confirmed in due course.

National reiterates call for broader use of rapid Covid tests

Christopher Luxon (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Rapid antigen tests should be made available for everyone – not just critical workers.

That’s according to the National Party who are unhappy with a proposed “test for work” scheme that would allow critical workers the ability to access free rapid Covid-19 tests.

Party leader Christopher Luxon told RNZ that while a test for work scheme is a good idea, the availability of the tests should be far broader.

“Let’s say you want to go see your grandparents. You’d want to be able to swing past the supermarket, do a quick test and say ‘right I’m good to go see nana and granddad’ and that’s just someone being sensible – personal responsibility,” he said.

“Now, if you choose to take one, you should certainly pay for it. If it’s… because you’re a critical worker and it’s about test to work, then that should be freely available to you.”

Some private sector businesses have been able to secure their own supply of rapid tests, but in limited numbers.

More details on the use of rapid tests will be revealed at a 2pm press conference with associate health minister Ayesha Verrall.

Notorious Lake Alice psychiatrist dies

Lake Alice (Design: Tina Tiller)

Selwyn Leeks, the doctor who headed the adolescent unit at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital in the 1970s, has died, reports Stuff. Late last year, police concluded an investigation into abuse at the hospital and decided to charge an 89-year-old former staff member with wilful ill treatment of a child. They found sufficient evidence to charge 92-year-old Leeks and another former staff member with the same offence, but both were deemed medically unfit to stand trial.

A family member posted on Facebook that Leeks died on January 6, reports Stuff.

The Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry released its interim report in December, and its full report into Lake Alice is due in mid-2022.

Next steps in omicron response due today

The government will today outline more detail around phases two and three of its omicron response.

We’re currently in the “stamp it out” phase, where daily case numbers remain low. However, the government has signalled this approach will change when omicron case numbers surge to around 1000 per day.

Part of the next phase will include wider use of rapid antigen tests so that some businesses won’t have to wait for staff to receive a PCR test result before returning to work.

The “test to return to work” idea was teased yesterday by prime minister Jacinda Ardern. “Critical workers who are identified as close contacts will be able to use proof of a negative rapid antigen test to return to the work place during their required period of isolation,” she said.

“This will minimise disruption to critical infrastructure and supply chains, helping to keep New Zealand going.”

The opposition, however, were displeased with what they saw as the rationing of rapid tests. Act’s David Seymour said the public was being treated like a child. “All over the world, people can go to their supermarket or pharmacy and buy a test to monitor their own health,” he said. “Here in New Zealand, we have enough on shore for one each, so the government is tightly rationing them.”

Efeso Collins commits to contesting Auckland mayoralty 

Efeso Collins with his  daughter Asalemo. Photo: Toby Manhire

Prominent Auckland councillor Efeso Collins has announced that he will run for the Auckland mayoralty whether or not he can secure an endorsement from the Labour Party. In an interview with The Spinoff published this morning, he said that a report in the Herald on the weekend suggesting that the predicted exit of Phil Goff would leave a “three-horse race” for the role, with Collins unlikely to stand without the backing of Labour, was both “disappointing” and wrong. 

He said he had reached out to senior ministers, to the party president, and to Goff directly, urging an “open and transparent” contest for Labour’s endorsement ahead of October’s election for the mayoralty, which many consider the second most important political office in New Zealand. While he had not lost hope that a “primary” might be held, Collins said he was committing to enter the race. In the interview at his apartment in Ōtāhuhu, the Manukau ward councillor talks about why the support he sought from Labour is not apparently forthcoming, his ambitions, his faith, racism, and the bomb threats that informed his family’s decision. 

Read it here

Efeso Collins at home in Ōtāhuhu (Photo: Toby Manhire)