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Ministry of Health releases an update on Omicron

Statement of Ministry of Health updating on the Omicron situation.

Today there are an additional six Omicron cases to report among arrivals at the border, taking to total to date to 78.

Yesterday we confirmed New Zealand’s first border-related case of Omicron with community exposures.

The case arrived on 16 December and as required under the previous regime for international arrivals, completed a full 10 days in isolation; 7 days in a managed isolation facility and 3 days in self-isolation. They were tested on day nine but did not wait for a negative test result before self-releasing.

Under the previous regime, those leaving a managed isolation facility were able to complete their three days self-isolation at home or in other accommodation. The case completed their self-isolation on Waiheke Island, we understand they travelled by private car and ferry to the island. While on the ferry they did not leave their vehicle and travelled straight to their accommodation.

All international arrivals are now required to complete their full 10 days of isolation in a managed isolation facility and must return a negative day nine test before they are released. From 7 January, all travellers to New Zealand will have to have a PCR test no more than 48 hours before flying, down from the current 72 hours.

Contact tracing has identified a number of known close contacts, all of whom are being contacted and asked to isolate and test. This includes close contacts identified via case interviews and from locations of interest including Impala nightclub. Additionally, push notifications have been sent to any person who scanned into any LOI that the case visited. These notifications include public health advice on testing and isolation. All identified close contacts are being urgently contacted by contact tracers.

Whole genome sequencing of the other omicron cases at the same managed isolation facility has shown the case is not linked to others who stayed at the same facility. At this stage, there is no evidence of in facility transmission.

A further interview is underway with the case this morning to determine additional locations of interest.

Testing is available on Waiheke today and additional mobile testing will be made available if required.

Anyone who attended the Hidden Lakes Festival and is concerned should ring healthline for further advice. However, only a small number of contacts of this case attended the festival, all of whom had negative tests beforehand. The public health risk associated with this event has been assessed as low.

At this stage, there are no known contacts or cases associated with Rhythm & Alps festival.

As always, anyone who is symptomatic should stay at home get tested.

Today we are reporting a second border-related case who has been in the community. The case is an Air New Zealand crew member who worked on a flight between Auckland and Sydney on 24 December.

They were tested for COVID-19 in routine surveillance testing on 27 December. Whole genome sequencing has confirmed the Omicron variant and has also confirmed the case is linked to three other Omicron cases on the same flight.

The case was immediately transferred to a MIQ facility.

The case is fully vaccinated. Eight close contacts have been identified, seven of whom have returned negative test results.

At this stage, there are no known locations of interest.

We have been doing everything we can to prepare for Omicron and to keep it out of the community since the variant was first identified. This has included undertaking whole genome sequencing on every PCR sample taken from COVID-19 cases detected in international arrivals.

Our vaccine rollout remains our key defence against all variants of COVID-19, including Omicron. With 90% of the eligible population now double-dosed, and the booster programme underway, New Zealanders are well protected. We want vaccinations to continue increasing and ask everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. This is also a timely reminder for people over the age of 18 to get their booster shot if it has been six months since their last vaccine dose.

From 5 January, people only need to wait four months since their last dose and will be able to access a booster through walk in clinics. For a full list of vaccination centres see the Healthpoint website.

As always, it is important to stay at home if you are sick, get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and isolate until you return a negative test.

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  1. Meanwhile Israel is considering allowing Omicron to spread unchecked in their country. The rationale is sound, Omicron is a mild disease similar to the common cold, the vaccines and boosters do not work, Germany reports (Koch Institute) that 95 % of Omicron cases are in the fully vaccinated and widespread Omicron effectively makes the expensive and dangerous vaccines redundant.


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