NZ on 'borrowed time': Baker on threat of Omicron outbreak

Michael Baker says the situation in New South Wales  shows how vigilant New Zealand has to be...
Michael Baker. Photo: RNZ
A Covid expert has warned New Zealand is now on "borrowed time", while 5-to-11-year-olds are now eligible to receive their vaccination against the virus.

On Sunday, health officials revealed a MIQ worker was among 25 new community cases. However, the Ministry of Health confirmed that the worker has Omicron.

The border worker returned a positive result for Covid-19 late on Saturday afternoon and is currently in isolation, the Ministry of Health said. The test was taken as part of routine border worker surveillance testing.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the traffic light settings will be reviewed this week. Only Northland remains at red, after Auckland moved to orange on December 30.

New Zealand now faces the threat of the Omicron variant, which may soon be introduced in the community, epidemiologist Michael Baker said.

"It's the second case of local [Omicron] transmission we have had in New Zealand so it does indicate we are really on borrowed time with Omicron at the moment."

Baker said the reason the daily number of cases is dropping is due to the fact over 90% of the population is partially or fully vaccinated.

But he said the possible Omicron outbreak should be delayed as much as possible.

"We want to delay that for a period hopefully into March or even a bit beyond to give New Zealanders the chance to get boosted and vaccinate children in New Zealand," he said.

From today, health providers across the country can vaccinate 5-to-11-year-olds against Covid-19.

In preparation, over 120,000 doses of the child Pfizer vaccine has been delivered to over 500 vaccination sites.

The vaccine used for children has a lower dose and smaller volume than the adult vaccine and is administered using a smaller needle. Children will also have to wait eight weeks before receiving their second dose.

Starship Paediatric Consultant Dr Jin Russell advised parents and caregivers on preparing their child for vaccination.

"The best thing a parent can do to prepare their children to be immunised is to talk to them about what is going to happen.

"Tell them there will be a small needle and that they will feel a sharp scratch or sting briefly but then it will be over. They may have a sore arm, fever, headache or feel tired afterwards," Russell said.

Speaking to her own children, Russell said she told her boys why they will be vaccinated.

"I say to my boys, you are going to be vaccinated to protect yourself against Covid-19, and to protect our family, your grandparents, our community, and other kids at school who may be more at risk from Covid-19 if they catch it."

Meanwhile, Auckland's Covid-19 vaccination programme clinical director Dr Anthony Jordan said communities in the region are well prepared.

"We're looking forward to welcoming families along to our vaccination centres, and will have activities available to help make children feel more comfortable and keep them busy, like word finders, colouring-in, stickers and certificates."

There are 55 close contacts of the border worker who returned a positive result for Covid-19 late on Saturday afternoon, and so far the Ministry of Health says 15 of these contacts have already returned a negative test result, including five contacts in Taupō.

"Among the close contacts, are 39 people who were on two bus trips with the case. The MIQ worker on the bus trips was wearing their mask throughout both journeys," officials said.

Whole-genome sequencing has linked the worker to two returnees at MIQ who had arrived from India on January 8.

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