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A three phase approach to omicron. (Griffin Wooldridge / Unsplash via RNZ)
A three phase approach to omicron. (Griffin Wooldridge / Unsplash via RNZ)

The BulletinJanuary 27, 2022

New Zealand’s omicron plan revealed

A three phase approach to omicron. (Griffin Wooldridge / Unsplash via RNZ)
A three phase approach to omicron. (Griffin Wooldridge / Unsplash via RNZ)

The isolation period for cases will be shortened and they’ll be asked to notify their own close contacts in the later stages of what could be a significant outbreak, Justin Giovannetti writes.

New Zealand’s omicron plan is now clear. Since Sunday, the government has unveiled a new piece of the country’s updated Covid-19 response nearly every day. The picture is now more-or-less complete. Ayesha Verrall, the associate health minister who was an infectious diseases doctor until the 2020 election, yesterday detailed a new three phase approach to omicron. The plan expects infections to soar into the thousands, or tens of thousands of daily cases, in the coming months. The first phase, where we currently find ourselves, is quite familiar to New Zealanders. The plan’s final phase will be unlike anything the country has seen before. Stuff has detailed the three phases.

Phase one: try to stamp it out. The current phase. Largely mirrors the approach to the delta outbreak, with the addition of booster shots. People who have symptoms or are close contacts are expected to get PCR tests. Contacts will be traced by public health experts, while push notifications and updated locations of interests will help the country keep tabs on infections. Cases will isolate for 14 days, while contacts isolate for 10.

At around 1,000 daily cases, phase one won’t be able to cope. Ashley Bloomfield told RNZ that the worst case scenario is this could happen in about two weeks.

Phase two: slow the spread. PCR tests will still be available. Most cases will be informed via text message and directed to use online tools to help contact tracing. Experts will focus on tracing high-risk events. Critical workers, those in health and maintaining supply chains, will be able to use rapid tests to return to work once their infections clear. Other cases will isolate for 10 days, while contacts isolate for 7.

Once cases are in the daily thousands, this will stop working. There aren’t firm guidelines on what will trigger any of the moves between phases.

Phase three: Self-management. PCR tests are reserved for the vulnerable, while most symptomatic people are directed to use rapid tests. Cases will need to find and notify close-contacts themselves. As a result, the ministry of health will stop publishing locations of interest and sending notifications to cases. The definition of a contact will be narrowed to someone in your home. The isolation periods remain 10 and 7, while critical workers can exit early with a rapid test.

As RNZ reports, Verrall said it’s possible phase three won’t be necessary as some countries haven’t hit the high level of cases that would bring about the need. Omicron has now only spread to a few dozen people in New Zealand.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.

Isolation periods will be a critical factor in the coming weeks. With estimates that up to half the population will become infected with omicron, many New Zealanders could soon be looking at their calendars to figure out how long they and their families need to self-isolate. Until the country enters the second phase, that could mean up to 24 days of self-isolation for people who live with Covid-19 cases. Businesses have said they’ll struggle to cover a 24-day leave for isolation and it isn’t clear how sick leave will work for people who can’t work from home. Al Jazeera has looked at how self-isolation rules are changing around the world and New Zealand seems to be hitting the middle of the target, with some countries cutting isolation time to as few as five days while others are sticking with the WHO’s recommended 14.

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