The government is bracing itself for an Omicron outbreak that will swamp the country’s health system and elude the precautionary measures which have prevented coronavirus transmission so far, according to a document leaked to Māori Television.
The classified Across Government Situation Report reveals advisers' fears of panic buying of food, protective masks and medication should Omicron eventually spread and says home-made face coverings are "unlikely to be effective".
“Facial coverings made from cloth materials are not sufficient in preventing or reducing infection of Omicron,” the document prepared for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet says.
The document from the Insights and Reporting Team in the Covid-19 Group says while community cases are decreasing, Omicron in MIQ is on a tear and given the variant’s transmissibility, it’s likely it will eventually make it through the border.
“In the event of community transmission of Omicron, community cases will almost certainly experience a sharp increase in a short time frame.”
The report highlights concerns intensive care beds are ‘limited’ across district health boards, with just one-third, or 108 ICU beds (36%) available now.
No ICU on West Coast or Hawke's Bay
A chief concern is there is "no ICU capacity" at West Coast and Hawke’s Bay DHBs.
The report says while vaccination rates are generally high, booster rates and tamariki vaccination rates are not. Omicron can more easily evade the vaccine, which means it's likely to reach at risk communities, such as Māori.
“Although two doses of vaccines have been shown to help against hospitalisation and severe disease, research shows it is less effective at preventing infection, which will likely enable the virus to spread to more vulnerable communities.”
The report says the booster and child vaccination programmes will mitigate infections.
The report says given many haven’t been exposed to previous waves of Covid-19 like Delta, New Zealand could be harder hit than the US and Europe, which are now battling their own Omicron outbreaks.
“Most will not have any protective immunity benefits that may arise from prior infection,” it says.
Tamaki protest concerns
The leak comes as cabinet ministers meet this afternoon to evaluate traffic light settings across the motu and crucially decide if Tai Tokerau will drop to orange. It is the only part of the country still rated at red in the traffic light system.
Amid the other concerns highlighted were protests organised by Bishop Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church, the document says Social media monitoring shows an "increase in negative sentiment" toward lockdown restrictions but that most commentators acknowledge Omicron will "make it through the border imminently".
One of the biggest concerns of an Omicron outbreak will be the "impact on business continuity" according to the report. "It is likely that current isolation requirements for close contacts will lead to high rates of work absenteeism," the report says.
“This is particularly problematic for workplaces that cannot operate remotely such as critical workers in hospitals, transportation, and emergency response, as well as hospitality and some retail venues.”
Earlier today Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins defended the government decision to halt new MIQ rooms, saying the system is facing "extreme pressure".
The pause was announced via social media last night with the government citing the transmissibility of Omicron.
"No decisions have been made on the date, sequence and conditions for the border reopening and the cabinet will consider options within the next couple of weeks based on the most up-to-date advice.
"Until then, we are not in a position to release more MIQ rooms," Hipkins said.