28 February 2024

Close contacts do not have to self-isolate as Omicron cases surge

From midnight tonight, close contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate and only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will be required to do so.

This move to the Phase 3 of the response to Omicron from 11:59pm tonight (Thursday, 24 February) was announced by COVID-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins today.

In this next stage to manage Omicron, Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) will become the primary form of testing in the community and availability expanded to hundreds of locations. Additionally, approved RATs will be sold to the public through retail outlets from March.

“With daily case numbers in the thousands and forecast to rise sharply during the next few weeks, now is the time to implement the next stage in our plan that will keep New Zealand going throughout the Omicron peak…

“These changes will ease some of the pressure on our testing and contact tracing services over the next three to six weeks, while helping to ensure critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy keeps moving,” Chris Hipkins said.

Major changes have been made in areas of isolation, testing and contact tracing areas to manage this phase.

From midnight tonight, close contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate and only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will be required to do so. Confirmed cases and household contacts should isolate for 10 days but can now self-release after day 10, providing any testing requirements are met. If they develop symptoms, they are encouraged to test sooner.

The critical worker exemption scheme, announced earlier, will enable eligible household contacts to return to work during their isolation periods by returning a daily negative Rapid Antigen Test.

Changes have also been made to “how we test, and who should get a test,” Chris Hipkins said.

RATs will become the primary form of testing, and would be available from hundreds of locations around the country-including testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and within workplaces. Approved RATs will soon be able to be sold to the public through retail outlets.

PCR testing will be reserved for people where it’s clinically indicated they need it. A PCR test will no longer be required to verify a positive RAT result, according to the Minister.

Locations which have RATs available can be found on the HealthPoint website.

With regard to contact tracing, use of a new “self-investigation tool will henceforth support positive cases to self-notify contacts.”

“Because only household contacts are required to isolate, the tool will assist us to track high risk exposure events or locations. Contact tracing teams will now focus on identifying and tracing those who have visited these high-risk location such as hospital or aged care facility.

“There will be continued support for those members of our community who are not digitally set up,”Chris Hipkins said.

Advice on what to do during the Omicron peak can be found here.

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