Ardern outlines changes to help fight Omicron

By Te Ao - Māori News

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made changes to the red light traffic setting as the Omicron outbreak continues to grow.

Masks must now be worn in food and drink businesses, close-proximity businesses, events and gatherings. "The existing exception of when you are eating, drinking and exercising still applies," Ardern says.

The changes do not apply to non-public facing workplaces, swimming pools, and gatherings that have the exclusive use of  premises.

Ardern says that face coverings now have to be "an actual mask". 

"That means no more scarves, bandanas, or t-shirts pulled up over the face.

"This is to ensure it is a mask designed to cover your mouth and nose properly."

Medical-grade masks

All workers who are legally mandated to be vaccinated must now wear a medical-grade mask, like a Type-2 R or Level 2 or above while they are working in public-facing roles. This includes the blue-grade medical masks.

The same applies to all schoolchildren in years four and above. They must wear masks on Ministry of Education funded school transport and public transport.

"The science has been updated and these changes will reduce the spread of the virus, save lives and give us more time to get more of the eligible population boosted."

The changes will come into effect in nine days. 

Jacinda Ardern says the cabinet has been looking at lots of overseas data that has been "most successfully managing Omicron."

Rapid antigen testing coming

Ardern also says Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall will outline the government's response to Omicron in the three stages that the country may likely face. 

"In phase one, the earliest stages which we're in now will continue with the same testing, tracing and isolation settings as we have used before. But as the caseload grows, these settings will change."

Ardern revealed how the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be used for critical workforces for businesses and supply chains to stay open. "This allows a test to return to work approach," the prime minister says.

"This approach will mean those critical workers who are identified as close contacts will be able to use proof of a negative RAT test to return to the workplace during their required period of isolation. This will minimise disruption to critical infrastructure and supply chains helping to keep New Zealand going."

"For now, though, PCR tests are best." 

RATs will be more common once New Zealand reaches the second phase of the Omicron outbreak, with confirmation that an additional 14.6 million antigen tests will be delivered over the next five weeks and 22 million more tests also incoming.