Covid 19 Omicron: NZ to move to red traffic light setting tonight; PM Jacinda Ardern holding press conference

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Covid 19 Omicron: NZ to move to red traffic light setting tonight; PM Jacinda Ardern holding press conference

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed New Zealand will move to the red traffic light setting at midnight tonight.

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Nine Covid cases in Motueka are confirmed to have the Omicron variant, Ardern said.

They attended a wedding on January 13 and another event a few days later. These events had well over 100 people.

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Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson area, if not further, Ardern said.

Ardern said the focus was now on getting people their boosters and wearing masks.

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Given our low number of Delta cases, we have capacity in our system to slow down the virus, Ardern said.

“The difference to previous outbreaks is we are now well vaccinated and well prepared,” she said.

Every region will move into red regardless if that area has had a confirmed Omicron case. “The evidence from overseas suggests it moves very quickly,” Ardern said.

“Red will make a difference,” she said as high-risk events won’t be allowed.

Education centres stay open but with extra health measures including year four and up will be required to wear masks, Ardern said.

Red setting

Red is the most restrictive traffic light setting, but domestic travel can continue. There would be no more borders around regions, such as the recent Auckland borders.

While lockdowns would not be widespread, there could be lockdowns localised to a workplace or school, for example, depending on what was happening in the outbreak.

In red, face coverings are mandatory when travelling on public transport, in retail and to an extent in education. Public facilities and retail outlets are open, with capacity limits.

Covid 19 Omicron: NZ to move to red traffic light setting tonight; PM Jacinda Ardern holding press conference

A move to the red light setting will mean more restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

With a vaccine pass, many businesses and events can have a maximum of 100 people, including hospitality, gyms, weddings and tangihanga. Without passes, hospitality services must remain contactless and the aforementioned gatherings are limited to 25 people.

Tertiary students must study remotely if they don’t have a vaccine pass.
Gyms and close contact businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons can open in red as long as public health measures are in place.

The move will be a cruel blow to hospitality in businesses in Northland, which only moved to orange this week.

Omicron cases

The decision to move to red has hinged on the results of genome sequencing for several Covid cases with no clear link to the border.

An Air NZ crew member has been linked to nine cases in the Nelson region, and genome sequencing has now confirmed the man, and nine Covid-positive people in Motueka who are linked to him, have the Omicron variant.

The crew member was potentially infectious while working on five Air New Zealand flights, which are now locations of interest.

University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank said if the cases were Omicron, it would trigger an outbreak.

“Obviously that is a significant number of cases and significant level of exposure on five flights, and with no clear link to the border that I’m aware,” Plank said.

So far, six people have been confirmed to be infected with Omicron in the community after the highly contagious variant slipped through border controls.

That included two Auckland Airport workers, an MIQ staffer, two close contacts and another person who spent two days moving about in Palmerston North while potentially infectious after being discharged from MIQ.

Schools to open

Despite Omicron, schools will still open as planned, Ardern said today.

One of the most important things people can do is have a buddy so that if one does become infected the other could help deliver food and support them, Ardern said,

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he wants to see more face-to-face learning this year, and schools will deal with the virus differently than they have over the past two years.

But he says it’s possible some schools may have to move to learning from home if they are understaffed because so many teaches have been exposed to Covid.

Kids will experience disruption if they, a close contact, or someone in their household is sick, but otherwise they will be at school and in class, Hipkins said.

Experts respond

Epidemiologists professors Michael Baker and Rod Jackson have urged the Government to go further than the traffic light change and shift the eligibility for booster shots from four to three months, as Australia just announced.

About 56 per cent of eligible adults have already received their booster.

But Baker, of Otago University, said changes to our own behaviour, via the traffic light system, would make a large impact in blunting the blow of an Omicron wave.

“Limiting gathering sizes will make a great difference – and working from home should definitely be encouraged.”

Jackson, of the University of Auckland, argued a delay to the start of the school year – as has been called for by others – could help reduce case numbers.

“That is a major super-spreading setting, and it’s not that kids themselves get incredibly sick – it’s that they infect their teachers, parents and grandparents,” Jackson said.

“I appreciate that’s controversial in terms of disrupting everything, but we have one goal, and one goal only – and that is to flatten the peak.

“We’re not going to stop Omicron, but we can slow it down.”

Covid 19 Omicron: NZ to move to red traffic light setting tonight; PM Jacinda Ardern holding press conference

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