Govt 'working hard to provide certainty' on MIQ - Hipkins

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: NZ Herald
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: NZ Herald
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says he made the decision to axe an upcoming MIQ room release yesterday.

The MIQ system was under "quite a lot of strain" as more returnees test positive for Omicron, the minister said at a press briefing this afternoon.

Hipkins said it was an operational matter and a delay for a period of time while officials figure out what is happening at the border. The Government was "working very hard" to provide certainty in an uncertain environment.

The room release, scheduled for January 20, was postponed last night.

There is no question New Zealand is moving to a self-isolation model, Hipkins said. The question is when that should happen.

The community protection framework would be discussed at Cabinet today.

Hipkins wouldn't be pressed on whether the Government had ruled out a move to the green traffic light setting for any region tomorrow.

Asked about the Black Caps cancelling their tour in Australia, Hipkins said he acknowledged restrictions at the border had had an impact on many New Zealanders. "We have worked extensively with New Zealand cricket."

Tenfold increase in cases at the border

Today, there were 56 Covid-19 cases detected at the border and the seven-day rolling average of border cases is 35.

Head of MIQ Chris Bunny said there had been a tenfold increase in positive Covid-19 cases at the border compared to December and acknowledged the news would be disappointing for many people wanting to return to New Zealand.

"The Government's strategy is to minimise the risk of Omicron in New Zealand as much as possible."

Hipkins this morning defended the halting of MIQ availability - saying it was a temporary move as the system was faced "extreme pressure" from Omicron-infected arrivals.

"No decisions have been made on the date, sequence and conditions for the border reopening and 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."

The focus, Hipkins said, would continue to be on encouraging people to get their booster vaccine jabs and immunising children aged 5-11 "before Omicron takes hold in the community."

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would be a matter of "when, not if" Omicron arrives in the community.

"At some point we will see Omicron in the community," she told reporters.

As well as the 30 border cases of Covid-19 detected yesterday, there were 14 new community cases identified, across Auckland (7), the Lakes DHB region (6) and Wellington (1), the Ministry of Health said.

An Auckland-based MIQ worker with the Omicron variant of the virus has 84 contacts, as of this morning, of which the vast majority have returned negative test results. One of the worker's household contacts tested positive for the virus yesterday and is isolating at home, the ministry said.

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