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New Zealand to reduce isolation times in phased Omicron response

Auckland residents wait in line for Covid-19 testing on Jan. 24.Hannah Peters/Getty Images via Bloomberg

New Zealand will reduce coronavirus isolation periods and change the definition of contacts as it battles an outbreak of the more infectious omicron variant.

The government plans three phases, with the first now underway as policy makers take a “stamp it out” approach, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said Wednesday in Wellington. Phase two will occur when omicron cases have spread in the community and phase three will be when there are thousands of cases a day.

“As case numbers grow both testing and isolation approaches will change in response,” Verrall told reporters. “We have planned for scenarios when there could be tens of thousands of cases a day.”

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New Zealand has fended off a severe outbreak of Covid-19 by closing its border and as needed locking down communities, while at the same time allowing most of the population to get vaccinated. The more infectious omicron variant means the nation now has to adjust to living with the virus.

“Almost no country in the world has escaped omicron and New Zealand is no exception,” Verrall said. “But where we can be an exception is how well we minimize the impact of the virus and protect our people from it.”

In phase two, those with cases will need to isolate for 10 days rather than 14 currently, she said. Contacts will need to isolate for seven days, down from 10.

In phase three, the definition of contacts will tighten to household contacts only, so that only the high-risk persons will need to isolate.

The government will also make greater use of rapid antigen tests as case numbers build, focusing PCR tests on priority populations. Verrall also outlined greater use of digital technology including text messages to communicate with infected people and their close contacts.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.