The New Zealand government has announced that the country will be moving to phase three in its plan in managing the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
In a press briefing held on February 24, Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins announced that phase three will be more about self-management while easing some restrictions in order for the government to focus its efforts on assisting the most vulnerable sectors. “I do want to provide a reassurance that phase three won’t mean any sudden lurch in terms of personal restrictions or movements. Our priorities now shift to isolating those with Covid-19 and their household contacts to reduce the spread while at the same time supporting supply chains and essential businesses and services to continue to operate,” said Hipkins.
Last January the government launched a three-phase response to Omicron. The first phase focused on “stamping out” the virus in the same approach they did for the Delta variant. They stepped up boosters shots for adults and vaccinations for children while keeping Omicron infections low. Phase two puts additional care for those who are more vulnerable while slowing down the spread of the virus. Isolation periods in this phase have been reduced from 10 to seven days.
Phase three will focus only on confirmed cases and their household contacts who will be required to isolate. All other contacts will be asked to monitor for symptoms but they will not have to isolate. Hipkins reiterated that the primary means of testing for Covid-19 will be the RATs or Rapid Antigen Tests. The government expects businesses to be able to make RATs available for purchase while the Ministry of Health has also set up an online website for ordering RATs for free to be used in home testing. Hipkins also mentioned the use of new self-investigation tools to help keep track of exposure.
New Zealand public health official Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, also echoed the announcement of Hipkins as phase three is rolled out. In an interview with NewsHub, Bloomfield reiterated the importance of self-management for those infected by Omicron. “So under phase three as you say, the only people here who are required to isolate are household contacts,” said Bloomfield. “Of course, many other people who find out that they are contacts will choose to isolate to protect other members of their whanau community and of course workmates. And of course, we are asking them and they should know so that they can take those precautions.”
“We will get through this…We just need to stick to the plan we’ve set out,” Hipkins encouraged.