Omicron triggers new plans

Southern health officials have rewritten their pandemic preparedness plans in the expectation they will soon have to manage an outbreak of the Omicron rather than the Delta variant of Covid-19.

The much more transmissible Omicron strain has rapidly set records overseas for both case numbers and deaths.

In the past seven days, Australia has reported more than 488,000 new cases of the disease.

New Zealand, which is still managing an outbreak of the Delta variant, recorded 27 new community cases yesterday, all in the North Island.

Omicron has yet to become established in the community here, but epidemiologists have predicted New Zealand will struggle to contain Omicron at the border.

Southern District Health Board acting quality and clinical governance executive director Dr Hywel Lloyd said the board’s Covid-19 plans were now focused on the demands Omicron would make on health resources.

"There is no doubt that it will get into the community and probably sooner rather than later and that is the situation we are having to plan for.

"We have had to shift our planning from what we had in place to handle endemic Delta to having to have a much faster response with Omicron, and a much more rapid escalation in case numbers and hospitalisations."

Southern health planners were watching for trends in Australia, and expected a local Omicron outbreak would require more beds for patients who needed hospital-level care, but less of a demand for intensive care beds.

"That’s what we are adjusting for at the moment."

"As far as we can make out from the figures so far, Delta causes more morbidity and hospitalisations and ICU cases," Dr Lloyd said

"Omicron looks like it has less morbidity, but the longer time we get to monitor that the better data we can get, but it is much, much more highly infectious."

An Omicron outbreak would place greater demand on public health services such as contact tracing, as there would be more cases to investigate, and also cause more pressure on primary health services monitoring the welfare of patients at home.

"Again, you have more cases, so your resources are stretched," Dr Lloyd said.

Vaccination remained the best defence against Covid-19 and the SDHB planned to both accelerate the rollout of booster shots and be proactive in promoting vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds when child vaccines became available this Monday.

"With Omicron vaccination is a big, big focus for us," Dr Lloyd said.

"Also, over the Ditch they maybe became a little more lax with their public health measures and we certainly need to keep that up and running.

"People need to wear masks, they need to be socially distanced, they need to practise all those important health measures more than ever with Omicron."

The Ministry of Health yesterday listed Queenstown’s SkyCity Casino, Shotover Jet and Oaks Queenstown Club Suites hotel as Covid-19 locations of interest after a visitor tested positive.

The Ministry of Health said the person was now in isolation.

Passengers on a jet-boat ride operated by Shotover Jet Queenstown between 9am and noon on January 2 needed to isolate until they returned a negative test result, the ministry said.

It confirmed the passengers were regarded as close contacts of the positive case.

A person who has since tested positive stayed at the Oaks Queenstown Club Suites hotel from December 30 to January 2.

They also visited the casino between 5.50pm and 7.30pm on New Year’s Day.

A ministry spokesman said while no Omicron cases had been detected in New Zealand, the Queenstown locations entailed some risk of Covid-19 transmission.

“The Ministry of Health asks everyone in Queenstown to remain vigilant.”

There was a week’s delay between the exposure events and the ministry reporting them.

The spokesman said such delays could happen if a person tested positive several days later, which meant it was important that anyone symptomatic should get a test.

WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson Dobbs said there had not been a noticeable increase in demand for Covid-19 tests, but local GP practices had the capacity to handle more cases if need be.

"Anyone who has symptoms or who has been at a location of interest at a relevant time should definitely get a Covid-19 test," he said.

"It is free and it’s readily available."




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