100 potential Omicron contacts; 47 from nightclub

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

Less than 24 hours after the first reported Omicron case in the community, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there could be as many as 100 contacts of the case.

Hipkins told media that there are 4 more positive cases who were in the same managed isolation facility as the UK DJ at the center of the Omicron case. Three or four have no genomic links to the DJ, but officials are waiting on the return of genome sequencing from the final case.

Robert Etheridge, who goes by 'DJ Dimension' isolated with 4 associates at a house on Waiheke Island, after his 7-day stay in MIQ. The housemates are now self-isolating with 3 out of 4 having returned negative tests as officials wait on results of the fourth.

Hipkins acknowledged self-isolation rules had been broken, the government learning of the case's movements through social media where he was seen to go to the beach and have drinks with people outside of his isolation bubble. 

It's not been decided whether the man will face fines or penalties following his movements in the community; though the government is not considering lockdowns at this stage. 

47 close contacts at the Impala nightclub in Auckland's Shortland Street are being followed up and encouraged to get tested and to self-isolate; there are 5 other locations of interest and testing is available on Waiheke.

The DJ at the centre 

Etheridge arrived in the country on December 16 and is fully vaccinated.  Ministry officials say investigations are underway as to how and where he acquired the virus.

Etheridge shared a statement on social media last night saying "In line with the Government rules, I was in managed isolation for seven days followed by three days of home isolation," 

"During this time, I received three negative tests and showed no symptoms. After completing my ten-day isolation, and of the understanding that I had completed my quarantine, I entered the community.

"To my shock and enormous concern, I unexpectedly received a positive test on day twelve, two days after my isolation period had ended." he added.

The Ministry of Health says crucially, the chart-topping entertainer did not wait for a negative day nine test before leaving self-isolation and visiting several places including the popular Impala nightclub, a bar and restaurants. 

"We are taking this situation seriously and taking a precautionary approach. However, we do not believe that the individual was highly infectious at the time of the above exposure events." the Ministry said in a statement.

Minister Hipkins says he doesn't know whether Etheridge had a vaccine pass.

Preparing for Omicron

Only four days before the exposure event that introduced the variant to the community, the government announced its plan for reducing risks of the Omicron variant. The strategy included cutting the interval between the second dose and the booster shot from 6 months to 4 months, the pre-departure test requirement to enter NZ reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel, and the phased border re-opening pushed out to the end of February.

At the December 21 briefing Hipkins said evidence suggests Omicron is the most transmissible COVID-19 variant yet and public health advice suggests soon every case that comes into MIQ will be Omicron.

“While it’s sweeping the globe at a bewildering speed and appears to be the dominant variant, how sick it makes people and the impact it has on health systems is not yet fully understood."

“Our plan is to get as prepared as we can by speeding up boosters and strengthening our border to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible." he added.