Booster gap shortened, border reopening delayed, MIQ extended

The Government has announced a suite of changes to bolster New Zealand's defences against the Omicron variant of Covid-19 - including pushing out changes to border rules until the end of February.

The changes just announced by Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins include:
• The interval between the second dose and the booster shot reduced from 6 months to 4 months
• Over 82 per cent of vaccinated New Zealanders eligible for a booster by end of Feb 2022
• Eligible border and health workers required to get booster dose
• Pre-departure test requirement to enter NZ reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel
• Phased border re-opening pushed out to the end of February
• Temporary change to MIQ – length of stay increased to 10 days for all travellers, with no self-isolation component
• Everyone on an international flight with a positive case to be treated as a close contact
• All countries removed from Very High-Risk country list
• Roll out of paediatric doses of Pfizer for 5-11s. Rollout to start from 17 January prior to school returning in 2022.
• Cabinet confirms use of traffic light system to manage outbreak and in the event of Omicron outbreaks areas will move into the red traffic light setting

"All of the evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible Covid-19 variant yet and public health advice suggests that soon, every case that comes into MIQ will be Omicron," Hipkins said.

"But experts still don't know how severe it is. So while it's sweeping the globe at a bewildering speed and appears to be the dominant variant, how sick it makes people and the impact it has on health systems is not yet fully understood."

Hipkins said the Government's plan was to prepare by speeding up boosters and strengthening border defences to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible.

"We start our response to Omicron with a number of advantages on our side. We have over 90 per cent and rising of the population fully vaccinated, we still have our border protections and MIQ in place, school has finished for the year and we are heading into summer when we are outdoors more.

"But we need to do more. Parts of the world are going back into lockdown and experiencing major disruption, and with these extra steps we aim to keep Omicron at bay to ensure New Zealanders get the break they deserve and businesses can remain open."

Vaccine rollout for children

Cabinet has confirmed that the vaccination rollout will begin on January 17 for children aged 5-11, Hipkins said.

They will reach more rapidly into remote communities, he said. Vaccination of children will also be a choice of parents, he couldn't speak strongly enough of its importance.

Other countries were rolling out the vaccine for this rollout and it was safe.

Managing outbreaks

Cabinet has confirmed that should the Omicron variant leak into the community, the traffic light system would continue to be used, Hipkins said.

The Government would apply additional protective measures as the health system was put under pressure.

Omicron was spreading fast so the red light may be used early on to help minimise the chances the country could return to "something more restrictive", he said.

Lockdowns would be highly targeted if used.

Travel with Australia

Hipkins said that with New South Wales now expecting to record 25,000 cases a day by end of January, it was too high risk to open the border in mid-January as planned.

NSW today confirmed 3057 new coronavirus infections - the highest daily number of cases for the state and for Australia throughout the pandemic.

Sydney-based clinical immunologist Dr Dan Suan said NSW was "sleepwalking into an Omicron disaster" if no changes were made to curb infections.

"We risk turning Christmas Day into a simultaneous super spreader event all across Sydney in thousands of houses," he said in a Facebook video.

For Kiwis trying to get home, the uncertainty about MIQ has very difficult to deal with, Grounded Kiwis spokeswoman Alexandra Birt told Newstalk ZB.

She said for people in places like Australia, many had been waiting for months.

"Some of them are in very dire situations and have been holding out for this date, the 17th of January, when they can finally get home. So for those people it is extremely distressing just kind of waiting to see what's going to happen."

Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

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

Become a Supporter