RNZ reported yesterday that an MiQ worker has tested positive for the omicron variant of Covid-19,
The Auckland MIQ worker returned a positive test result as part of routine testing.
The Ministry of Health has now confirmed that the worker has caught the Omicron variant.
More than 50 close contacts have so far been identified.
All of the case’s seven household contacts identified have already been contacted, isolated and tested, and returned a negative result.
The case and one household contact are now isolating in a MIQ facility. The remaining household contacts are isolating at locations in Auckland and Taupō.
A further 48 close contacts are in the process of being contacted; 15 of them have returned a negative test, including five in Taupō.
The worker, who was infectious from 10 January, took two bus services in Auckland and visited a supermarket and four other stores in the city.
Those locations, and areas of the MIQ facility are considered high-risk, and the Ministry of Health says anyone in Auckland with symptoms should get tested.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the person had done “everything by the book” and had been acting in very cautious way.
My emphasis. Locations of Interest are listed here and include various places in the North Island (and a few in the South Island).
This is serious. Omicron spreads fast and has the potential to cause similar chaos here as is happening in Australia: increased numbers of people getting sick, health system overwhelm, lots of people off work affecting services and supply lines.
We have some choices here, in large part thanks to the Labour government who is intent on reducing spread rather than opening up at this stage. There are things we can be doing that will make a difference.
This morning Morning Report interviewed Covid-19 modeller University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank. He says it will be a few days until we know if omicron is in the community.
Plank said it was a timely reminder for people to keep up to date with locations of interest and scan in.
“It’s a really good idea now to check that list of locations of interest and to make sure that you do scan in everywhere you go, and that you’ve got Bluetooth turned on.
“This is the best chance we have of stamping this Omicron outbreak out in its early stages before it really takes hold in the community.”
While it was “good news we’ve caught it relatively early with a clear link to the border”, Plank said the country still needed better vaccination and booster rates to contain an Covid-19 Omicron outbreak.
Hold your nerve New Zealand. The opportunity we still have, that many other places in the world don’t, is to slow covid down. This gives us time to get get children vaccinated and adults boostered, and assess what omicron does. Vaccination provides the following benefits,
Nothing is stopping covid completely, so the aim currently is to slow it down and do damage limitation. Think harm minimisation: reducing harm to individuals, populations, health systems, economies, society.
All of this is still true with omicron. The key thing here is that omicron can still cause problems even if it’s not causing as severe illness as delta. This is because it spreads much more easily.
If people get omicron and it is less harmful, but many more people get it than delta, then the numbers of people needing hospitalisation or who die can still be large. It can still overwhelm New Zealand’s health system. It can still mean many people having to take time off work, and the flow on disruptions to life and the economy.
The current vaccines aren’t as effective against omicron as previous variants. This doesn’t mean they have no effect, it means that the protection is somewhat limited, but there is still protection. Boosting seems to be increasing protection.
If we look at our situation in New Zealand, the comparison isn’t between high vaccinated countries and low vaccinated countries. It’s between New Zealand with omicron and being highly vaccinated, and New Zealand with omicron and low vaccination rates.
Long covid typically is assessed at four months, we don’t know yet what omicron does in that regard. That’s a waiting game. But we should have more data and analysis over the next month about just how omicron plays out acutely. We are incredibly fortunate to have the space to wait and see. For those feeling anxious or stressed that’s a timeframe we can be working within.
For people that choose not to vaccinate, there are still many things that will help limit spread. We should all be doing these,
It’s prudent to also be planning for an outbreak. If you can, make sure you have enough staples to get you through several weeks if supply lines are disrupted by workers being off sick or self-isolating. We don’t need to panic buy, there is enough food and other goods in New Zealand, we can just be adding some extras into our usual shopping each week at the moment.
If you don’t have the funds, talk to WINZ, local food banks or support NGOs. If you are well resourced, please start thinking about and talking with people in your neighbourhood who might already be struggling. This is a time when New Zealand can put its values into practice and step up and make sure we are all ok.
Kia kaha, Kia māia, Kia manawanui. Be strong, be brave, be steadfast.
* * *
Mod note: if you want to run particular arguments under this post, you must provide consistent links and explanations of what is in the link, alongside your own point. If posting video or audio, please supply time stamps for the part of the video you are referring to. Text requires a copy and paste rather than expecting people to read a whole piece and parse what you mean.