Source: New Zealand Ministry of Health
Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide an update at 2 pm today.
Today I will set out our plan for the next steps in our COVID-19, including details of the phases of our public health management of Omicron and what that means for the testing and tracing process.
We have begun a new chapter in our fight against COVID-19.
Omicron is here and we have changed our strategy to minimise COVID-19’s impact on people and protect the critical systems that support our health and well-being.
Almost no country in the world has escaped Omicron, and New Zealand is no exception.
Where we can be an exception is how we minimise the virus and protect our people from it.
Our systems have adapted at every stage of the pandemic, but you have all played a vital role as well.
New Zealanders step up when there is a job to do and this has served our communities well through the pandemic.
Our high vaccination rates, the hard work of our public health team and the COVID protection framework have meant we have been able to do what many countries around the world could not do – we have reduced the spread of Delta, we have emptied the ICUs of COVID cases and we are now in a good position to manage the spread of Omicron.
From what we have seen overseas, we know Omicron is the most transmissible COVID variant yet so we expect it will spread fast causing case numbers to grow rapidly and putting our health system and other infrastructure under considerable pressure.
International reports suggest new cases from Omicron double every two to 4 days, this means a 10 case out-brake could reach 1000 cases per day in just 6-12 days.
We have planned for a high prevalence scenario where cases could be in the tens of thousands per day.
I know that these sorts of case numbers sound scary to many people.
Two years into this pandemic, many of us are still unaccustomed to having COVID around us.
But it is important to remember that COVID-19 is a different enemy to what it was in the beginning.
The Omicron variant is markedly less severe than prior variants.
One US report suggests the hospitalisation rate is 10 times less than Delta.
It’s transmission and severity is also reduced by vaccination.
So for most people, it can be a mild to moderate illness that you can manage at home.
We also have the advantage of watching and learning from other countries.
Most other countries have had to get boosted in the middle of their outbreaks.
Our plan has given us a head start and nearly 60% of eligible New Zealanders have now had their booster.
And one of five children under 12 have had their first dose.
I am especially pleased to see that over 73% of eligible people over 6 to 5 have now been boosted, and every — over 65, and every DHB is on track to complete the booster program in aged residential care next week.
We need to use the coming weeks before the virus can significant take-off to get as many people boosted as possible.
Getting boosted plays a major role in preventing serious illness and it keeps pressure off hospitals.
If it has been four months since your second dose, you are due for your booster. Please go to my vaccine to make your appointment — please go to Book My Vaccine.
The Healthpoint website has a list of all the vaccination sites in the country.
Vaccination sites are open today across the country and we will be standing up additional surge capacity this week in anticipation there will be additional people who will now be wanting to make sure their vaccines are up-to-date.
For those of you with children aged 5 to 11, all children aged 5 to 11 can now be vaccinated.
And I encourage parents and caregivers to seek information to help you make that important decision.
Already around 20% of children have been vaccinated or are booked to do so.
Now a little more detail on the national approach, as Omicron – – for Omicron. Last week the Prime Minister talked about the fact that through the course of managing Omicron we have changed our strategy to minimise its impact on people.
As case numbers grow, testing and isolation approaches will change in response.
We have been planning for three phases for Omicron.
This plan sets out the actions we will be taking and this is in testing, contact tracing, case management and isolation and quarantine.
Care in the community, and also response to Omicron in our communities.
Phase 1 is where we are now.
We are doing what we have successfully done with Delta – using our tools from the ‘stamp it out’ approach.
This will be familiar to you.
The tools were used to stamp out outbreaks in the past can also be used to slow the start of the outbreak of the more people time to get boosted.
That’s why we are currently taking an intensive approach to contact tracing, including tracing secondary contacts.
We are still asking that everyone who is symptomatic get tested at a community testing station or primary health provider.
If you are required to isolate, you will receive advice, and if needed, support to do so.
At this stage you need to isolate for 14 days if you are positive, and 10 days if you are a contact of a case.
These intensive measures can be sustained while numbers are low.
Once Omicron becomes established in the community, we will adjust our approach under phase 2. In phase 2, public health efforts aim to slow the spread of the virus.
This means reducing the number of cases to a level the health system can cope with.
Importantly because of vaccination and systems improvements, we are in a much better position than two years ago.
The system will focus more on identifying those who are at greater risk of severe illness from Omicron, which will be a small percentage of cases.
As has been the case since the early days of COVID-19, we need to continue to adapt our public health response to safeguard the health and well-being of New Zealanders.
And when COVID-19 changes, we change.
Any rapid escalation in case numbers will put pressure on our resources and requires us to shift from identifying all infected individuals to be a more targeted to those most at risk and those needed to keep the country going.
At this stage, most people who are able will start to be managed through digital tools.
Support from health and welfare services will be provided as required.
Text message notification for positive cases will begin at this stage with phone support still available for those that need it.
Contacts will also be notified by text message.
Household contacts will be actively managed with close contacts requiring a day five test.
As part of the text notification, individuals will receive a link to an online portal called the COVID-19 Health Hub which will provide tailored health advice and resources on everything a person needs to know in clear, translated bull and accessible formats.
The ministry and the GPs are working to identify those who don’t have Internet access or capability so when they become a positive case, they will automatically be flagged to receive a phone call or outreach service to connect with them.
If people cannot access online resources, they can still get support from other channels.
Healthline remains a key communication channel in responding to the pandemic and can help you with clinical and nonclinical advice.
You can reach them on their dedicated line.
These measures will slow the virus but they shouldn’t disrupt critical services that underpin our well-being like food distribution or electricity generation systems.
It doesn’t make sense to take action on one public health threat only to create another threat to our well-being. We are currently in the process of identifying critical sectors and we will have more information on this soon.
Generally workers in critical sectors are those who are required to undertake their role in person at the workplace and in a role that must continue to be performed to either prevent immediate risk of death or serious injury to a person or animal, or prevent serious harm to significant numbers in the community.
This is ultimately about ensuring the well-being of all New Zealanders.
This has been the principal of our COVID-19 right from the beginning.
We will continue to manage testing of symptomatically people and close contacts at Phase 2 with PCR testing, but we will be enabling a test to return for asymptomatic credit or workers who are close contacts of — critical workers who are close contacts using rapid antigen test.
These workers are key to our COVID-19 and also ensuring New Zealanders can continue to access the services they need.
Strict protocols for those testing to return to work for critical workers will include daily symptom checks and daily rapid antigen tests prior to commencing work, strict use of a medical mask put on before entering the workplace, changed as needed during the day, and strictly complying with any infection prevention and control protocols at work.
When the masks are removed, for example, for eating and drinking, physical distancing must be maintained.
Eat alone or in a well vented space where possible.
Travel alone to and from work, and between jobs.
Continue regular workplace surveillance testing if already in place.
If symptoms develop, the worker will follow the public advice for close contact with symptoms. Testing remains a cornerstone of our response but when and where and how we managed testing will change once omicron becomes seeded in the community due to its highly infectious nature.
Rapid antigen test will become the go-to testing tool.
They perform best when case numbers are high and can give a quick result without drawing on laboratory or transport systems.
The use of rapid antigen test dates in the test will be available (inaudible) key workforces at the border and as diagnostic processes.
We currently have good stock numbers of rapid antigen test and will release more details on the application, distribution, supply and funding for them in the coming days and weeks.
We are already in the process of pre-emptively supplying rapid antigen tests to healthcare sectors, organisations with critical workforces such as energy and food supply among others.
And providers who work with vulnerable populations including Maori and Pacific providers.
Critical infrastructure businesses that have eligible workers deemed to be critical for workers within that organisation will be able to order rapid antigen tests from the Ministry of health through an online portal.
Specific guidance on the process for business and critical sectors will be distributed in the coming days.
Importantly as the Prime Minister previously said, testing will remain free and available when you need it.
At the third phase of public health response will be about minimising a widespread outbreak.
When cases are in the tens of thousands, we will then make further changes to contact tracing.
Locations of interest and push notifications will be paused but keeping a record of where you have been by using the COVID trace wrap will be important as it is now so that if you can get sick you can identify where you were.
Public health units will be focused on managing the outbreak and very high risk settings such as prisons or aged residential care.
It is worth noting that we do not expect to be at this case…
The situation (inaudible) in a few weeks.
Self-service tools for contact tracing and rapid antigen testing will be significantly…
Important to help us respond to the high volume of omicron cases.
The care in the community model will see the majority of positive cases ported to self manage at home including clinical care and welfare support will be available to you and prioritised as needed.
Your GP has an important role in this is a person who knows your individual health needs and how COVID-19 may impact you.
By identifying cases early we can effectively plan and ensure our hospitals and primary care providers are freed up for our vulnerable communities.
Other technology solutions are under development and will ensure…
Enable the upload of rapid antigen tests, results and to review — view test results and vaccination records, enabling those digitally connected to have information…
Access the information they need but it is important to note that as always, public health units will be available to respond to complex outbreaks and iwi Pacific providers and other NGOs will provide funding with care and support.
These technology solutions are being developed at pace and more information on them will be available over the coming weeks.
Through the course of each stage, we have a test work regime that would allow critical workforces to keep them going over the outbreak.
Today we have gone through the details of public health operations everyone understands the response will change as the outbreak does but our message to the public is simple – get boosted.
Wear a mask in indoor settings, follow the basic hygiene rules we have become so familiar with and reduce contact when out and about as much as possible.
We are going hard on early with a public health response as we have previously.
The health system cannot do it alone. As always, what each and every one of us can do as individuals will be what makes the difference to us as a collective.
Omicron is now in 80 countries around the world.
But — by delaying its arrival here we have had time to prepare our public — public health response.
Take steps at home in the coming days with family, neighbours and communities to make a plan.
Resources to help you do this are on the Unite Against COVID- 19 website Dr Bloomfield and I will not take questions.
>> What you say to people who are looking at these rules and saying, as they stand, they could be facing weeks in isolation as they have got a large household.
What you say to those people where it is not possible for them to go to a batch or stay with friends?
>> At the moment, we are taking a conservative approach to our contact tracing system so that we can really minimise cases in the early stages of the outbreak, so it will be very small numbers of people impacted by the longer isolation time and cases and contacts.
What Shanta Dey is we will change that as the outbreak changes in the number of people impacted becomes larger.
What we have shown.
I close contact is currently defined as someone who has 15 minutes of face-to-face contact at a 2 m distance.
That definition will evolve during the outbreak and resources will be more focused on those at the greatest risk.
>> Going by the time frames you mentioned at the beginning, it looks like we will be in phase 2 probably by (inaudible) Waitangi weekend.
Are all those things in place to roll out – texts (inaudible) — test for Waitangi?
>> It is not a foregone conclusion how quickly the omicron outbreak was spread and it is important to note that as we look around the world we see places that have not got into the level where those phase 3 measures might need to be used.
The actions that we take now in terms of boosters, in terms of masks will influence the time it takes to get to those other levels and the ultimate time we spend at those higher levels.
>> Why is the government commandeering all stocks of rapid antigen tests from private businesses?
>> That is not the case.
We have made sure that we are purchasing rapid antigen tests for our need but I will leave it to Dr Bloomfield to outline the process for packaging rapid antigen tests that we are using.
>> Kia ora.
We are not commandeering all the stocks that private members have.
We have discussed with our three main suppliers, which are Abbott, Roesch and (unknown term), that forward orders of test that have not yet arrived in the country, that those 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 test if they are using them at the moment and that will continue and in particular to support private businesses and the public sector to maintain critical workforce including through that return to work approach but also to make sure that our rapid antigen tests are used where they are needed.
This is an interim measure while, as you know, there is extremely high demand on supply globally.
>> Is it fair that you have gone over and above businesses that have had orders in the weeks and months and said, “Send them to us.
We are more important.” >> We have had orders in four weeks and months as have other countries.
There is a gap globally between production and the orders that countries and companies have rights around the globe.
What we are wanting to head off is the sort of situation we have seen in other countries including Australia rapid antigen tests end up in the wrong place and not there to support the overall societal response.
We have been and will continue to work closely with businesses to make sure that if they need access to rapid and antigen tests including now they can get those in the meantime.
>> Dr Bloomfield, it would seem you are commandeering it and saying to business, “The Ministry of Health knows better how to handle them than what business does.” >> The ministry of health is purchasing on behalf of the government and that is to support the overall plan which the Minister has just outlined.
Businesses, many businesses, already have tests on sure — sure and we are not requisitioning those anything like that.
We have orders in, for example, orders in for around 40 million test between now and the end of February.
So far we have confirmation for only around 1/3 of those around exact dates and numbers around when they will arrive.
This is the same for businesses.
What we have said to those supplies is in the meantime we will ensure that we are getting confirmation of those orders and getting them on sure on behalf of all New Zealand including businesses.
>> You are taking control away from business.
>> That would be the case if we were not working with those businesses, which we have right through.
>> It is not clear that those businesses placing small orders of 5000, 10,000 and the global market the way it is that those would have been filled actually.
>> What is the actual threshold to move into phase 2?
The plan just says when there are more cases circulating but given the changes that will then come in, at what point?
Do you have a number two is that a cabinet decision?
>> This is an operational plan.
I don’t imagine it is a cabinet decision but it is a matter of looking across these systems, testing and contact tracing and very carefully evaluating the level of demand in those so we know when we need to change and we will be indicating prospectively to people as we see that that is likely to happen.
>> Is that at the point where systems become overwhelmed that that is too much to keep contact tracing?
>> The plan is designed to make sure that we transition into new systems that can cope with demand because indeed the challenge of omicron is a really high demand so it is to avoid the…
>> Can you be more specific about the trigger point?
Phase 2 is quite different from phase 1.
It means different things including the isolation and testing work.
At what point will ministers, the government say we already?
The numbers are there >> The numbers of part of it and are likely to less than 1000 a day between moving from phase 1 phase 2 and in terms of between phase 2 and phase 3, it could be in the thousands but not the tens of thousands.
>> (Inaudible) what was the Maori input into this?
>> The way we have designed the strategy on how the health processes will modify and what we need to do is to make sure that we are working with Maori at every stage of it to ensure that there is…
The systems we have set up with Maori continue to be high performing in the environments that we have.
>> COVID-19 strategy failed Maori so we are asking, what input did they make to the strategy, not working alongside but do they have (inaudible)?
>> The strategy is an operational strategy that we do need to go out and consult with various parts of the sector on and we are doing that now.
>> (Inaudible) you do that before.
Why wouldn’t that be part of your planning now?
>> Because the thing we need to do is to make sure we have clear oversight of the parts of the government response, the contact tracing, for example, and are able to move the resources around within that but we are absolutely clear that what we are trying to do is enable all the good codesign work that has gone on between Maori providers and the government already in the response.
>> On the numbers you have been pretty clear about moving when it is fewer than 1000 and up to tens of thousand potentially.
It sounds like you have modelling in place.
Can you share with us what you expect to be the height of the pandemic of this next outbreak and where that will occur?
>> The plan we have announced is not based on modelling per se.
What we have done is look at a range of different scenarios and make sure that we can think how the response would move at those different stages.
So, we haven’t started saying, ” This is what our outbreak is.” Instead we have imagined a range of ways it could pan out.
That’s why just the fact, for example we have a phase 2, it is not guaranteed we will go to phase 3, for instance.
>> Minister Beryl, you said in the opening remarks that this is a mild illness that can mainly be managed at home.
— Dr Verrall.
What would you say to critics who say the government is overreacting?
>> I think the important thing about omicron is it is milder but it is far more transmissible and so even if a small proportion of people, a small proportion need care and hospital, that may end up being a large number of people at one time he need that resort.
— in .
The pressure can be quite large with it.
>> The healthcare system is inadequate?
>> It is a uniquely transmissible virus, one of the most transmissible viruses that we have seen at the end of the — on the planet and so it provides a neat challenge for healthcare services.
>> What evidence do you have to support your claim about the N95 masks?
>> Studies have been done on these.
That is why those workforces that are using N95s at the moment, in particular the health and border workforces, go through proper fit testing to make sure they are being used properly.
So saying, as I said yesterday, some people will be using N95s in the community because they are available.
One of the things we will be doing in our updated guidance around masks is ensuring there is clear instruction and information for people about how to get the best fit from the N95, even in the absence of doing the full fit test.
>> Dr Bloomfield in terms of PCR testing are you testing for the S gene?
>> B drop out is only picked up by one of the platforms we use for testing here in New Zealand.
— the drop out.
It has been useful so far but we are not specifically testing for the S gene drop out.
There are two variants of Omicron and this letter is gene occur with the second one.
So it’s not a helpful marker for Omicron per se.
>> In terms of contact tracing, (INAUDIBLE) who attended that Auckland wedding, tested positive, and they were not contacted as part of contact tracing.
>> Contact tracing requires two things.
Either the case has to identify those people as a contact, and that is subject to error.
People may not remember.
Or for us to broadcast a location of interest and for those people to self identify as being there and calling in.
It is not a perfect system.
There is always a risk that people will not be identified.
Right from the beginning, we have said the goal of the contact tracing system is to identify the majority of contacts but it cannot always identify them all.
>> The Air New Zealand worker was on the same flight, that’s a pretty obvious connection.
The Somerset village, they were at a wedding, so those are fairly clear and obvious contact tracing examples, aren’t they?
>> We will have to get back to you on the wedding, whether there was a register there.
Sorry, we will have to get back to you on the case on the plane.
But in terms of the wedding, it is dependent on people self identifying.
>> Just a comment on both cases, this is not unique and it has happened in earlier outbreaks as well.
Both of those cases were identified as cases and tested because they became symptomatic around the same time, or very quickly after our index cases had been found.
Subsequently we were able to link the Air New Zealand worker with the flight that this family who had been to the wedding in Auckland took back to Nelson.
But actually the testing came in close by.
That is something that happened in previous outbreaks as well.
This is very often the case that you will get more than one case appearing from a similar exposure separately and of course then we link it epidemiologically.
>> Can you outline for those at home why self-isolation requirements have decreased in stage III for both cases and close contacts?
>> In the first instance, we have just increased them from 10 days for cases in seven days — and seven days for contacts because we have gone into this strong stamping out approach.
So we are trying to slow and if possible cut off these clusters.
>> But stage III, is that living with the virus?
>> Not at all.
We will be going back to the lengths of time we have had in place through the Delta outbreak.
They are still based on the public health advice, so we’re not reducing them below what the public health advice is.
That is just to ensure that people are isolating for as long a period as absolutely minimises the risk as much as possible.
But there will still be a small percentage of people who might still be infectious after that time.
But in a situation that we will be in with the large number of cases and contacts, that’s a judgement that we think it is worth.
>> How does fewer isolation days minimise risk?
>> Well, no, the isolation periods are designed to minimise the risk and 10 days for cases…
>> What the issue is, at the first stage we are being very intensive about our management of risk while the number of cases are small but that response cannot be sustained when the number of cases are larger.
By reducing the contact isolation and case isolation periods by a few days, we know we only miss a small percentage.
Maybe less than 2% of cases.
But overall we managed to do our bit to flatten the curve.
>> Would you give very specific guidance on which industries, which groups, organisations, will be able to test to return to work?
You gave a broad definition today, but when I you going to name those?
>> Over the next few days or early next week.
Currently the government is working with industry to make sure we have the right parameters.
It will be a two step process so we will enable some businesses first but we don’t imagine we will capture all the businesses we need to from that process.
And there will be an opportunity for other businesses to apply.
>> What will that time frame be of that two step process for groups who may feel they should be included in the first one?
>> About two weeks away, I believe.
>> Can you guarantee every business who has had its tests requisitioned by the government, can you guarantee those businesses will get the tests reimbursed?
>> Thomas, no one’s tests have been requisitioned.
They have not been requisitioned.
There was no guarantee that anyone’s forward orders were going to be filled.
>> Government policy whereby businesses could get test but not guarantee they would get the tests they ordered.
>> It is a global supply situation that has led to the situation in which everyone’s orders are difficult to confirm.
The action we have taken has made sure that more New Zealanders will get tests, and that more businesses will be able to access them.
>> But the government just jumps in and buys them anyway, right?
>> There is no guarantee that small orders would have been filled in the environment we are currently in.
>> Can you go into detail about what you mean about the action the government has taken?
Did you deliberately go over the heads of these businesses to the supplier?
If so, did you pay a premium?
>> Dr Bloomfield can outline how the ministry interacts with suppliers.
>> The conversation I had on Sunday morning with Abbott when we were discussing forward orders and trying to get as much certainty as possible about how much of those forward orders would be delivered and the timing of those between now and the end of February, during that conversation I was asked about the orders that New Zealand-based companies had and I was asked about whether we should prioritise, or they should prioritise delivery to the all of government order and I said, yes, that would be the priority for now.
Again, I just want to reiterate, business will be able to access tests.
We are already working with them to ensure they can access tests if they need them.
This is in particular looking forward to the phases two and three.
And also an interim measure.
If indeed all our orders can be filled as we continue to work with those businesses, and we have confirmation of that, then of course we will be able to go back to the companies and say, if you can release orders directly, please do.
>> It was as simple as you having a conversation with the supplier and them asking if you wanted this to be the process and you said yes.
There was no change of contracts, the government didn’t offer a premium to get the tests before the companies?
The challenge here is not the size of the orders anyone has, it’s getting confirmation of the exact amount that can be delivered and when.
And it is changing on a daily basis.
And all the time we are looking to see what it is we have got, and indeed what it is that business needs.
We have already and we will continue to support businesses to access the rapid antigen tests they need.
>> What is the shelf life of rapid antigen tests?
>> I talked to someone who had a forward order of 100,000 tests (INAUDIBLE), no one from the government has spoken to them.
Quite a lot of these have said, sorry, that’s it for now.
>> We haven’t specifically talked to businesses.
I can reassure you there has been plenty of conversations between businesses and colleagues with ministers and we have been involved in some of those conversations.
We are and we will continue to work with businesses to look at what needs they have, what orders they had, and if they had needs and we are able to supply those needs from existing stocks.
>> Did you use emergency powers?
>> This was a conversation.
It was about ensuring New Zealand as a whole has access to the rapid antigen tests as much as possible to support not just businesses but of course the other uses we will have full rapid antigen tests.
>> Can you tell me what the shelf life for the test is?
>> The tests we have on order?
>> The rapid antigen tests, what is their shelf life?
>> It depends on the test.
For most of them it’s around two months and six months, two months and 12 months is my understanding.
>> Omicron in the community, but some people in rural New Zealand have to drive 1.5 hours to get tested whether it is PCR or rapid antigen, how are you dealing with access ability issues this time that were a problem last time?
>> That’s a really important point, thank you.
Firstly, we already have rapid antigen tests with community health providers.
We have particularly looked at trying to get them into isolated settings because of that.
They are in some isolated settings, communities, and they have been in anticipation of this summer.
In addition, the distribution of rapid antigen tests at phase 3 of our plan will be through community health providers, through the places you already get tested, such as general practice and other health providers, and community testing services.
>> The problem, minister, some places don’t have testing areas.
There are places all over the country where you won’t even get a mobile vaccination clinic in there for weeks on end.
How are those people going to be tested?
>> In addition, I should perhaps have started with this, we know I think it is 97% of New Zealand live within 20 minutes of a pharmacy.
That has been another important avenue we have brought on to support testing during this.
>> Maori haven’t been involved in this process, you were just in front of the tribunal at the end of last year saying it was still upholding the treaty and now we can see you haven’t actually consulted with Maori on this.
Are we going to see this in the treaty hearing at the end of next year?
>> First, we continue to have conversations with a range of Maori groups, and their input has fed into this.
Tomorrow I am on a Zoom meeting with a range of Maori providers and organisations to talk them through this and get feedback, just as we have been doing through last evening and today with other groups.
So we will continue to get input and feedback.
The key thing we are interested in getting feedback on is how we make sure when this is put into operation that all these measures are able to reach Maori and other communities.
>> 5000 Maori need to be boosted, will you let them be boosted before the four-month period?
105,000 Maori were vaccinated prior to 1 November, the question yesterday to you was, will you shorten that time frame for them to get boosted?
>> One of the reasons, as I said yesterday, one of the reasons we went to that shorter interval for the boosters was the knowledge that a proportion of Maori in particular and our high needs populations had got their initial vaccination course later in the year so that is why we shortened it to the four months.
At the moment there is no firm plan to shorten that further but I have asked for advice and I am inspecting that over the next two weeks.
>> They want to go to 3 months, it’s only four weeks, why will you not allow them to have that four weeks.
>> The technical advice is there to protect everyone and it is a medical intervention so we rely on expert is to make safe decisions.
>> We have had a level system, traffic light system, now these three phases.
What do you say to people who feel feeling confused?
>> The overall response to COVID is the COVID protection framework with the red levels but what I know people need going into an omicron situation where things can change quickly is just a plan in terms of what might change and the public health response.
We have seen overseas that things have changed in their public health responses without warning so this gives people the opportunity to see within the red levels things might change and it is an operational framework, so mostly about how public health systems will run and many of the points of contact people will be similar.
>> Could you please update us on supply chain issues – could you provide a sense on how severe these issues are?
Pharmacists are struggling to get PPE gear through the one thing Corporal — portal.
It is the portal to get masks, hand sanitisers and so on.
If businesses cannot get rapid antigen test but are there even rapid antigen test and PPE for frontline health people like pharmacists?
>> I would need to get the information from you about pharmacists having a problem.
We have a lot of PPE, for example, 145 million medical masts, the ones like you are wearing, 25 million 25,000,095 masks and PPE stock.
I will ask the team to look into what the problem is with pharmacists actually accessing PPE through one link.
In terms of rapid antigen test as you know we have millions onshore and they are being pushed out, for example, over this last week and 400,000 tests were pushed out to community providers to get them ready for these next phases.
>> Can you guarantee these frontline people can actually get this equipment from the Ministry for themselves because the one thing portal says that supplies are out for those products I listed before including the rapid antigen tests for them to use themselves.
>> I would need to check what is behind that but we have very good supplies are PPE all I health workforce.
>> Is the system robust enough to filter out fake vaccine pastors — passes?
>> Well, I hope that people are not using fake vaccine passes and that would be disappointing if they were.
Our vaccine checker is designed to validate people’s vaccine passes and it is quite clear they have been used very successfully over the summer and has really played a part in us being able to get on top of this Delta outbreak, so I guess the key question here is not so much is our system able to detect them, the issue is, and I want to reiterate, people should not use fake vaccine passes.
That is not the intention of the vaccine past system.
>> For both of you, are we now at a point in the pandemic as a country where we just need a complete mindset shift when it comes to omicron?
>> I think it is certainly the case that we need to adjust for many New Zealanders we have not been a customers — accustomed to having covered around us and we will need to anticipate that will change and that is important and why the government has been stressing preparedness.
>> A comment I would make is some people talk about are we shifting to living with the virus?
I think Michael Bates summarised this – we have been living with the virus, lived with it on our own terms and we want to continue to do that so that is why we are putting a plan in so we can carve her own path and our response to omicron that we are living with it on our terms and protecting people to the greatest extent possible.
>> With this latest omicron cluster, there has been an instance where a close contact has been identified (inaudible) a large export New Zealand business.
(Inaudible) told to isolate.
The business owner has said, “You need to work.”.
The health officials have said that is not going to be OK (inaudible) come to work.
Are you aware of these instances taking place?
What is being done and how can you rectify that?
(Inaudible) wider issues around supply chains and coming to work (inaudible)?
>> No, I’m not aware of that but we are aware of the potential which is why we make sure we provide financial support to businesses that have workers that need to isolate and in addition, the plan we have described today in terms of supporting the critical with us, that is important not just for critical industries but actually the industries as a whole so we don’t have widespread disruption throughout supply chains.
>> I think what has been clear to me throughout the outbreak is incredible support provided by employers allowing workers to isolate and that is a key reason we have been able to control our including of the previous highly infectious delta variant.
>> (Inaudible) health officials have stepped in (inaudible).
>> The local public health teams and the local medical health officer has powers and those powers include and the existing section 70 notice I have issued, anyone is required in fact to isolate for the period they are instructed to which if they are a close contact is a 10 day period.
>> Dr Bloomfield, how will testing be triaged in labs?
(Inaudible) COVID tests (inaudible) for example, and they have said (inaudible) a bit of a struggle.
(Inaudible) how are they expected to meet demand (inaudible) about triaging and do you see any potential that they will have to decide between (inaudible) like cancer diagnosis and prescreening?
>> The first thing is we need to manage demand in the testing system and the best way to do that is by how we present for testing, so before it even gets in the system for the lab, so that means that follow the indications for whether or not you need a COVID test.
If you have got systems — symptoms or you are a contact or you are part of a surveillance program but otherwise, there are samples in the system that perhaps create more demand than is necessary.
So, we see free laboratory triage and demand management as the most important thing.
>> (Inaudible) a report prepared for County Monaco and DHB, the doctor says once omicron is circulating in the community there will be little to no risk from overseas travellers.
Do you agree?
(Inaudible) >> I think the question of new imported cases present extra risk, one of the things that the modelling has shown us is that depends on the scale of your outbreak, so when it is low as in the case without Delta outbreak, the relatively would have been quite high and lots of imported cases can make a big impact then.
I have not seen Dr Jackson’s more recent modelling on that but I imagine if you have a larger outbreak as we would anticipate omicron, that balance will change.
>> (Inaudible) a petition going around calling for greater support of the entertainment industry.
Are we supporting the entertainment industry well enough?
(Inaudible) could we see numbers, audience numbers grow under a stage III, phase 3 setting?
>> What we have outlined today, all three phases occur at the systems we have set up a red, so these discussions about how particular sectors are impacted all relate back to that COVID protection framework.
I don’t have anything additional to say except what the Minister of Finance has already said about support for businesses.
>> Minister, operating mass, even (inaudible) can be a real strain.
Would the government consider subsidising or ink — improving (inaudible) for masks?
>> Yesterday the Minister of health release guidance on how to make the best…
On the best mask that can be used.
Then separately the government change requirements for people covered by Mandates for masks.
Look, I think we are pragmatic about masks and we have shown that all along.
We have made a big change yesterday to our mask guidance and we have talked about other masks in the past, whether we can be using them more.
I think we need to look more at the scientific evidence and the practicalities of making them work in our community.
>> When can people expect to be able to get hold of rapid antigen tests and be able to use them at home if they are not in this critical worker group?
>> In phase 3 of the plan we have said today that they will be rapid antigen tests, will be the primary diagnostic test for someone with symptoms in the community there.
They will be available through the channels you can currently access tests through.
>> That means you can take them and have them to do testing at home?
Don’t have to do them at the pharmacy?
>> We think it will be mixed, both a supervised and unsupervised option because of demand and that, how that will be structured is what the Minister is currently working on.
This is the last one.
>> You have been at pains to point out that omicron is a different photo Delta yet Dr Bloomfield said when it came to the Maori perspective being fed in, it was only paid in, there was not a specific strategy in mind.
Is this in essence saying the Maori focus or strategy for Delta was perfect and it does not need to change?
>> No, not at all.
And what we need to do and do do is make sure that we are in regular contact as Dr Bloomfield has outlined and occurs at the ministerial level as well around the strategy and there was intensive engagement around the COVID protection framework which this work today sits underneath.
>> It is a different flow.
How come it wasn’t specific, they were not marry specifically at the table or engage with?
When coming up with the strategy.
>> The overall detection framework is an important point that we engage with Mario across the government.
That really was the last question.
Thank you very much.
>> So, no business is going to get the orders of rapid antigen tests until the government’s 80 million are filled?
>> No, that is not the case.
This is an interim measure and businesses can and will be able to access rapid antigen tests including from the government’s supply as and when they needed to support the plan that we have for omicron.
We are and will continue to work with businesses on it.
>> (Inaudible) no one is getting anything until we have got yours.
>> Rapid antigen tests RO already widely at used in our system.
They are available as a diagnostic test predominantly in phase 3 and already being used, for example, in some health workers surveillance.
>> Why can’t members of the public go to a pharmacy or grocery store and buy them like you can overseas?
>> We need to make sure they are available for those who need them most.