The move to phase three comes as the country’s daily case numbers are steadily increasing and officials expect to see case numbers continue to soar. 

As of Thursday, there are 6137 community cases and more than 200 people in hospital.

Speaking to the media, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the country would move to phase three of the Omicron response at 11.59pm on Thursday. 

“Phase three won’t mean any sudden lurch in terms of personal restriction or movements,” Hipkins said. 

The traffic light system helped support this, he said. “Our priorities shift to isolating those with Covid-19 and their household contacts to reduce the spread.” 

The aim is to have most people managing themselves while families and communities that have the highest needs will be prioritised by health and social services. 

But what does this all mean? Re: explains phase three of New Zealand’s Omicron plan. 

Rapid Antigen Tests are now the main test

Throughout the pandemic, people have been getting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to see if they have Covid-19.

This is when a small cotton bud on a long stick goes all the way to the back of your nose. The result time varies but usually takes 24 to 72 hours. These tests are done by a health official in a clinic or testing centre

But with so many cases per day, in phase three the focus of PCR testing will be on priority populations such as people who are immunocompromised and pregnant people. 

Rapid Antigen Tests will now be the primary means for Covid-19 testing, Hipkins said. 

Symptomatic people or priority populations may also use Rapid Antigen Tests to see if they have Covid-19. 

Rapid antigen tests are taken with a nose swab that goes about 2 centimetres into an adult’s nostril and no more than 2 cm for a child. 

People can take these under supervision or by themselves and results are ready in about 20 minutes. 

In phase three, these will be available at GPs, pharmacies and community testing centres. They will also be available at workplaces for symptomatic or critical workers. 

Healthcare and critical workers who become close contacts but have no symptoms can take rapid antigen tests. If this comes back negative, then they can go back to work. 

From March, the public will be available to buy these from retail outlets.

Get your booster and act as if you have Covid to protect those around you

“No doubt, the next few weeks will be a challenge but New Zealand is better positioned than other countries to deal with Omicron,” Hipkins said. 

“Our high vaccination rate should help us through the next period. We strongly encourage everyone to get their booster doses.”

“Whatever phase three might mean for you, I want to reinforce that we have carefully planned for this and we’re in much better shape going into a potential peak.” 

Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said this was a time to be mindful of who you visit over the coming weeks. 

“Act as if you have Covid and look to protect others around you,” Bloomfield said. 

Around 70 percent of eligible people have had their booster dose and this needed to increase, he said. 

You need to manage your own close contacts

If you test positive for Covid-19, you will be told by text message from the phone number 2328. 

The text message will have links to information on self-isolation, how to tell others you have Covid-19, how to look after yourself and what help is available for you. 

People who test positive for Covid-19 will have to fill out a web-based form. 

Hipkins said the move to phase three also meant a move to a stance of “greater self management”. 

Previously, the Ministry of Health’s contact tracers would identify cases and their close contacts. 

Now under phase three, it will be up to Covid-19 cases to identify their close contacts online for contact tracing purposes and to highlight any high-risk exposure events. It’s also up to them to tell their employer they have been infected with Covid-19. 

Interviews over the phone by public health investigators will still continue for cases at places like Aged Residential Care facilities and Correction facilities, and for people who don’t have mobiles or computers. 

Close contacts no longer need to isolate, only confirmed cases and household contacts

Hipkins said “only confirmed cases and household contacts will be required to isolate”.

“All other contacts will be asked to monitor for symptoms but do not need to isolate.” 

In phase three, cases and people who live in the same households - called household contacts - will have to isolate for 10 days. 

Household contacts will need to get a Covid-19 test on day three and day 10 of the isolation period or sooner if they develop symptoms. 

Isolation begins from the day symptoms start or the day you get tested if you do not have symptoms. 

Confirmed cases and household contacts can self-release after day 10, providing any testing requirements are met. 

Close contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate, Hipkins said. 

However people should monitor symptoms and get tested if needed. 

For people currently isolating as non-household close contacts, the phase three rules will apply to them as the country shifts to this stage. 

You’re considered a close contact if you live with a positive case, have direct contact or near someone who isn’t wearing their mask properly

The Ministry of Health considers people as close contacts if they live with an infected Covid-19 person, have been within 1.5 metres of someone who is positive for more than 15 minutes and they were not wearing their mask properly or at all. 

You’re also a close contact if you have direct contact with someone who has Covid-19. This could be kissing, sharing a cigarette, vape or drink bottle, or if the person coughed or sneezed on you.

People in an indoor space with someone with Covid-19 for more than an hour are considered close contacts if at least one of the following happened: 

  • The case was singing, shouting, smoking, vaping, exercising or dancing, 
  • The case was not wearing a mask or it was not on properly
  • The indoor space was poorly ventilated
  • The indoor space was smaller than 100m2 (about 3 double garages).

NZ Covid Tracer app, positive cases will notify people if they are close contact

After a positive case fills out the web form, contacts will get a text message with links to information on what they need to do to manage themselves. 

Positive cases can also notify close contacts themselves. 

People can also be notified by an orange Bluetooth alert on the NZ Covid tracer app, a yellow notification on the tracer app if you scanned in at a location of interest. 

Employers and schools will also let you know if you’re a close contact.

Self-isolating means staying at home

It also means taking precautions and avoiding any contact with people you live with, if they do not need to isolate. 

This means sleeping by yourself and limiting the time you’re in shared spaces. 

If you can’t do this - you should stay at least 2 metres apart and wear a face mask when near others. 

Do not share items with people in your household. This include dishes, toothbrushes and towels. 

You’ll have to do your own laundry and you won’t be able to have visitors in your home. 

People should clean and disinfect surfaces like door handles, light switches and phones regularly. 

The Ministry of Health also recommends opening windows to increase fresh air flow. 

If you need food, prescriptions or essential items - you can get family or friends to leave them on your doorstep or get these dropped off by contactless delivery. 

Top Image: Person isolating at home. (File photo) Photo: Fotografia inc./iStock

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