'Omicron now circulating', country to enter red light setting

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed the whole country will enter the red light setting at 11.59pm tonight after testing confirmed the Covid cluster in Nelson-Marlborough is the Omicron variant and it originated after a wedding in Auckland.

The nine previously reported cases had their whole genome sequencing return as positive for the Omicron variant.

All the cases are in the same household and a further case was confirmed late yesterday, Ardern confirmed.

The family flew to Auckland on January, 13 to attend a wedding and other events on January 15 and 16. There were "well over 100 people" at these events, she said.

The family then flew back to Nelson where the Air New Zealand worker was infected while on the flight. The worker then went on to work additional flights while infectious. 

Later, another positive case connected to the wedding was confirmed.

The index case for this Omicron cluster is not yet known, the Prime Minister said.

It is now clear that Omicron is circulating in Auckland, and possibly in Nelson-Marlborough, if not elsewhere, she said.

Because of this, the whole country, every region, will be entering the red light setting at 11.59pm tonight to help slow the spread of Omicron.

The Prime Minister confirmed those who were eligible to be vaccinated in the infected family had been.

New Zealand system has "significant capacity" to work on stamping out outbreaks due to low case numbers, she said.

"We know we will see far more cases than we have in the two years to date, but the difference to previous outbreaks is we are vaccinated and we are better prepared."

She encouraged New Zealanders to get their boosters saying it will help limit the spread and limit the likelihood of someone getting sick or needing to go to hospital.

Ardern is reminding people the red light settings is not a lockdown.

She said it has restrictions, but business is still open, gathering numbers are reduced and differ depending on whether people are vaccinated or not.

Hospitality is seated and requires a single server.

She said schools remain open, with mask wearing for everyone from year 4 upwards.

Ardern said school ventilation systems will be assessed.

Ardern encouraged households to have a "buddy" to help with food, for example, if someone in your household is unwell from Covid-19.

Red setting

Red is the most restrictive traffic light setting, but domestic travel can continue. There would be no more borders around regions, such as the recent Auckland borders.

While lockdowns would not be widespread, there could be lockdowns localised to a workplace or school, for example, depending on what was happening in the outbreak.

In red, face coverings are mandatory when travelling on public transport, in retail and to an extent in education. Public facilities and retail outlets are open, with capacity limits.

With a vaccine pass, many businesses and events can have a maximum of 100 people, including hospitality, gyms, weddings and tangihanga. Without passes, hospitality services must remain contactless and the aforementioned gatherings are limited to 25 people.

Tertiary students must study remotely if they don't have a vaccine pass.

Gyms and close contact businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons can open in red as long as public health measures are in place.

The move will be a cruel blow to hospitality in businesses in Northland, which only moved to orange this week.

For more on the red light Covid setting visit the Ministry of Health website.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter