On 15 February the nation moved into Omicron phase two, to slow the spread of the virus and keep the health service and communities protected as transmission spreads. Phase two reduces isolation times and contact tracing methods. People are expected to self-isolate and have a Covid test if they are experiencing symptoms. There are concerns from families that live in crowded homes that don’t have proper isolation space. It is important to have an isolation plan to keep everyone safe. If someone in your household gets Covid-19, the whole household will need to isolate until everyone has fully recovered (3 days symptom-free).
Omicron spreads rapidly and everyone in the house may catch the virus. So be ready, make a plan and have a korero or talanoa about implementing the plan before your household is impacted. People need to take steps to reduce transmission, including getting a booster, wearing masks around other people and ensuring locations have the best possible ventilation.
Those who have had their booster and do not have underlying health conditions, will experience Omicron generally as a self-limiting infection. The symptoms can include gastro-intestinal upsets, a sore throat and runny nose. People need to prepare to work and/or study from home where possible and ensure that they have enough food and medications at home to last seven to ten days.
If you require care services, decide if you need to isolate together. Think about what happens with children, other dependants or shared custody arrangements.
Plan how you will minimise the spread to household members who are not unwell and find activities to keep you occupied. It is a timely reminder of the importance of looking after oneself and each other by continuing to be vigilant with health and safety, and taking all the necessary precautions to prevent being affected by exposure to Omicron by mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and disinfecting equipment. This message should be reinforced in synods and parishes.
Rapid Antigen Testing (RATs)
RATs are a type of test for Covid-19 that are generally taken with a front of nose swab and can be taken under supervision or by yourself. RATs are a valuable tool during the Omicron outbreak because they return results faster (in about 20 minutes) compared to a PCR test. This means PCR testing can focus on protecting our key workforce (healthcare), surveillance (at the border) and diagnostic (hospitals and acute care) settings.
There are currently 11 different types of RATs approved for use in New Zealand. The Ministry of Health will use its supply of RATs to support those that need them the most, such as priority populations and the critical workers. People should get a Covid-19 PCR test if they feel unwell.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Testing
The PCR test detects the presence of a virus if you have the virus at the time of the test. The test could also detect fragments of the virus even after you are no longer infected.
Close Contact Exemption Scheme
To ensure health and critical services can continue to function, fully vaccinated workers who fall under the ‘critical services’ category and are an asymptomatic close contact will be eligible for access to free RATs under the Close Contact Exemption Scheme.
During phases two and threeof the Omicron response, critical workers who provide a health, MIQ, emergency service or are critical workers of a registered critical service provider and who are vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts of a Covid-19 case, are able to continue to work outside their place of residence, as long as they return a negative RAT prior to beginning their work shift during the isolation period and follow specific health protocols. Critical workers who are participating in the scheme will only be allowed to go to and from work or to collect their free RATs kits from their closest collection site. They must otherwise stay in their place of self-isolation.
People need to be more vigilant than ever before, understanding the tests and exemptions, and taking all precautions to minimise the spread of the virus.