Tuesday December 21: 2pm 

Cabinet has put in precautionary measures to try to keep Omicron out of the community for as long as possible. 

On Tuesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says evidence so far points to Omicron being the most transmissible Covid-19 variant.

“But experts still don’t know how severe it is. So while it’s sweeping the globe at a bewildering speed and appears to be the dominant variant, how sick it makes people and the impact it has on health systems is not yet fully understood," Hipkins says.

“But we need to do more. Parts of the world are going back into lockdown and experiencing major disruption, and with these extra steps we aim to keep Omicron at bay to ensure New Zealanders get the break they deserve and businesses can remain open."

Here's the Government's plan to minimise the risk of Omicron: 

  • Eligible border and health workers will have to get a booster dose by the end of January. 
  • People can get their booster shot four months after their second vaccine dose.
  • The Government is pushing out the start of non-MIQ travel until the end of February 2022. 
  • MIQ stays have extended to 10 days.
  • Pre-departure tests need to be taken 48 hours before travel.
  • If Omicron outbreaks occur, areas will move into the red traffic light setting.
  • Children between ages 5 and 11 will be able to get vaccinated from January 17. 

Booster shots

The Government has reduced the time period between your second vaccine dose and the booster shot from 6 months to 4 months. 

More than 82 percent of vaccinated New Zealanders can get a booster shot by the end of February 2022. 

Eligible border and health workers are required to get a booster dose by the end of January or no later than six months after their second vaccine dose for those who were recently vaccinated, Hipkins says. 

All others who are under a vaccination mandate should get their booster dose by March 1, 2022.  

MIQ and travel

The Government is shortening its pre-departure test requirement from 72 hours to 48 hours before travel. 

The Government is also seeking advice on making it compulsory for non-New Zealand citizens coming into the country to have had a booster dose before flying.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins says there will be a temporary change to MIQ that increases stays from 7 days to 10 days. 

"Currently returnees do their final 3 days of isolation at home. Bringing those final three days back into MIQ reduces the risk of the virus entering the community," Hipkins says.

The Government is also pushing out the start of non-MIQ travel until the end of February 2022. 

Everyone on an international flight with a positive case will be treated as a close contact.

Covid-19 vaccinations available for tamariki from January 17, 2022 

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed children aged 5 to 11 will be able to get the Pfizer vaccine.

From January 17, about 476,000 eligible children will be able to get their first dose with their second dose at least 8 weeks later, Hipkins says.

“The government is strongly encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, but I want to be clear that this is a choice for parents," Hipkins says.

"The Government has no intention of making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for anyone in this age group."

The Ministry of Health is working with health providers and organisations to roll out the Pfizer vaccine to children in ways that suit whānau and communities. 

While there are no plans for a school-based immunisation programme, schools are being considered as community vaccination sites. 

The Green Party is calling on the Government to prioritise Māori and Pasifika providers in the rollout of these vaccinations. 

Green Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere says "Māori and Pasifika providers must be empowered and resourced to lead the hauora journey of their communities".

This comes after the Waitangi Tribunal found the Crown's response to Covid-19 actively breached the Treaty and "Māori were put at a disproportionate risk of being infected by Delta" than other groups.

"As a result of these failures, Māori are currently much less protected from the virus than other parts of the population," Kerekere says.

"The Government must do it differently for our tamariki, based on what Māori and Pasifika providers say will work best for their kids."

Traffic light system

When Omicron arrives, the Government expects it will spread fast, Hipkins says. 

"To slow that spread, we may use the red traffic light settings earlier on. That will give us the best chance to avoid returning to more restrictive alert level settings," Hipkins says. 

“It is not our intention to move to lockdowns unless absolutely necessary in the event of a widespread outbreak where our health system comes under considerable strain – and even then the strong preference is for the lockdown to be highly targeted."

New drug that can treat and prevent Covid-19 approved

A new Covid-19 medicine Ronapreve has been approved by Medsafe, New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority today.

Ronapreve can prevent and treat Covid-19 but it is not a replacement for the vaccine and its effectiveness against Omicron is yet to be demonstrated. 

Ronapreve is a monoclonal antibody drug that copies the body's natural defences for fighting disease. It has been approved for people who are badly affected by Covid-19 and who are at an increased risk of getting severe Covid-19 disease.

This includes people with compromised immune systems.

Medsafe's group manager Chris James says today’s announcement will provide an additional tool to health professionals, allowing them to save lives and take the pressure off hospitals, allowing them to focus on treating people with other conditions. 

This medicine is not approved for children to use. 

While getting this type of medicine is important to help address Covid-19, the focus remains on getting people vaccinated.

For more details on why new Covid-19 antiviral drugs are not a replacement for the vaccine, read our Re: story about this here

Board discusses three reports of people dying after getting vaccine

The Covid-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board, which considers the likelihood of a link between the vaccine and any adverse event, discussed three cases and revealed its findings on Monday.

The death of a 13-year-old, which was also reported to the coroner, was discussed by the board. 

Police report unexpected, violent or suspicious deaths to the coroner who will investigate it more. 

The board, in a statement, said more information is required before it could determine the role of the vaccine in this case. 

The board also looked at the death of a man in his 60s, who died within 2 weeks of his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Myocarditis was implicated in the man's death but the board says it was unlikely related to the vaccination.

The time from when he was vaccinated to the start of symptoms and "clinical factors" point to "other causes and is not consistent with a causal link", the board said.

In a third case, the board talked about the death of a 26-year-old man, who died within 2 weeks of his first Pfizer vaccine dose.

Early information from a post-mortem examination found that myocarditis — inflammation of the heart — was the "probable cause of death".

The board says the circumstances of these cases do not change the information it knows about myocarditis. 

"The benefits of vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19 continue to greatly outweigh the risk of such rare side effects," the board said.

"The board has recommended actions to be taken by the COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunisation Programme to continue to highlight myocarditis as a very rare side effect of the Pfizer vaccine."

It also highlighted that discussion at the time of vaccination from health officials should include information on common side effects and rare side effects, along with when and how to seek medical advice.

Top Image: A woman looks away while she gets ready for her Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: jacoblund/iStock (File photo)

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