23rd January 2022 – (Wellington) New Zealand will move to Red Light settings from 11:59 pm local time Sunday due to Omicron cases detected in the community, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday.
The prime minister announced the government decision at Sunday’s unscheduled media conference. According to the Red Light settings under the COVID-19 Protection Framework, gatherings will be limited to 100 people in places where COVID-19 vaccine passports are used.
Ardern confirmed that nine COVID-19 cases reported in the Nelson Marlborough region had the Omicron variant. A further case was confirmed late Saturday. The cases attended a wedding in Auckland on 13th January, along with a funeral, an amusement park and the Sky Tower in the following days. These events had well over 100 people.
Director-General of Health from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, said that the risk of transmission by the confirmed Omicron cases is considered high. The source of the infection is not known yet.
“Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson area, if not further,” said Ardern.
The New Zealand government will be taking a three-stage approach to the point where New Zealand sees 1,000 cases a day, said Ardern.
Stage one will be the “stamp it out” approach, with contact tracing and testing, including rapid antigen tests. Stage two will be a transition stage. The third stage will see changes to contact tracing. More details of the three-stage plan will be released later, said Ardern.
“The evidence from overseas suggests it moves very quickly,” said Ardern, “the difference to previous outbreaks is we are now well vaccinated and well prepared.”
Ardern urged the public to get their booster jab of the COVID-19 vaccination.
“Get boosted, and it makes all the differences,” said Ardern.
Ardern said the focus was now on getting people their boosters. The government is sticking to the four-month gap between the second dose and booster, but that would be continually reviewed.
She also urged the public to get tested if they had any symptoms.
There will be no lockdowns at Red Light settings as hospitality businesses and workplaces will be open. But number limits will be capped at 100 people in hospitalities and gathering if vaccine passports are used.
Workplaces will be open but employees can choose to work from home. Mask wearing is highly recommended and mandatory in many indoor places such as public transport, retails and public venues.
Epidemiologists Professors Michael Baker and Rod Jackson have urged the government to go further than the traffic light change, shift the eligibility for booster shots from four to three months, and delay the school year’s start.
Government support will be handed out to people who cannot be at work due to home isolation requirements. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that the government leaves support scheme will be available for this situation.