COVID-19 Update - Omicron Outbreak

27 January 2022

Although the news on Sunday that Omicron was in the community was not unexpected, this would no doubt have been concerning for many of you. As you may already be aware, New Zealand has now moved into RED (information on operating at RED is set out below). It is likely that we will be facing cases in their thousands, even tens of thousands, in a matter of a few short weeks. We are certainly in a new situation with the arrival of Omicron, and our approach and response as a country is changing. 

New Zealand has had some time advantage with Omicron reaching our community, which has allowed our vaccination rates to increase to over 90%, for boosters to commence rolling out, and for our children aged between 5 – 11 to start getting their vaccinations. We also have the benefit of learning from other countries that have been dealing with significant case numbers. All of this, combined with evidence showing Omicron is a mild to moderate illness (for most who have had a booster), does provide comfort that we can manage this outbreak well.

The Government has now announced its three-phase strategy to respond to and manage the Omicron outbreak.

1.    Phase One – Stamp It Out
We are currently in this phase. We are focusing on stamping out the early and lower number of daily cases. There is conservative and more intensive contract tracing in this phase, using the current contact tracing system. There is also more stringent isolation requirements, with cases needing to isolate for 14 days, and close contacts of a case needing to isolate for 10 days.

2.    Phase Two – Flatten the Curve
As cases increase (no definite numbers has been provided that will trigger phase 2, but it is indicated that numbers will be below a thousand) the stringent rules will begin to loosen. In phase two the focus is on slowing the spread so our healthcare system is not overwhelmed. Contact tracing will target those most at risk, and those that are necessary to keep our country going (such as those working on the food supply chain and power).

For the majority, cases will be managed digitally, generally via txts. A covid online portal will also be available for those that test positive to provide information - the Covid Health Hub. There will also be some support via phone and the healthline number will remain available to all. Testing will be still be done via PCR, but Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) will be used for a Test to Work scheme for those who are critical workers. Those workers deemed critical will also have additional strict requirements such as mask wearing, distancing and daily testing. In phase two, the isolation requirements will also decrease, down to 10 days for a positive case and 7 days for a close contact. 

3.    Phase Three – Manage it
Phase three will be when there is a widespread community transmission, in the tens of thousands of cases a day. Locations of interest and push notifications will be paused, and the focus will move to managing high risk areas (such as aged care and prisons). New Zealand will move to a “Care in the Community” model, where most people who test positive will manage the illness in their home, with support from their GP. Digital technology is currently being developed for this phase that will enable the uploading of RAT results. The Test to Work regime for critical workers will still be in place. The isolation requirements remain the same as phase two. A summary of the three phase strategy is set out below.

To see an enlarged image, please click here

To see a version of the Three Phase Plan in written format, please click here

The Government has also advised three simple things we can all do to help manage this outbreak:
  1. Get boosted
  2. Wear a mask indoors (all masks are now required to be a fitted mask, face coverings are no longer allowed.) 
  3. Limit physical contact when outdoors

Every household is also encouraged to have a plan for when members test positive. This includes ensuring adequate supply of medications, having someone who can bring you supplies and ensuring support for your wellbeing.

We have also attended a meeting with MBIE, CHASNZ and Minister Williams via the Accord to discuss preparing for Omicron in the construction sector. Modelling and overseas experience, whilst not always accurate, is an important tool to help us prepare for what could be to come. It is expected that the current outbreak will start to surge from mid-February.

This will likely result in high impact for business continuity and operations from mid-Feb to early-May. We do encourage all members to prepare for high rates of absenteeism over the coming months, as staff will need to take time off work to isolate. There may be cases where staff have to isolate multiple times over the outbreak, as they may come into contact with a positive case on multiple occasions.

If you are planning how to operate a business during Omicron, you should think about how to plan and protect your workforce and business. Can building supplies be ordered in advance and stored? Can you bring forward or push out essential tasks to avoid them falling within the peak? 93% of the construction workforce is vaccinated, and we encourage all members and those in the construction industry to be vaccinated and get your booster when eligible. Omicron will be different from previous outbreaks, and so previous strategies in place may need reviewing. 

Operating at RED
Red is not a lockdown, but there are restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. You will always be able to access basic needs services, such as food and healthcare. With a My Vaccine Pass, most parts of life continue as usual. There are capacity limits and distancing requirements at some venues. Without a My Vaccine Pass, there are restrictions. 

Keep scanning QR codes and record keeping wherever you go. Keep physically distanced wherever possible. If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, isolate immediately and call Healthline for advice.

Please continue to check the locations of interest. Confirmed locations of interest can be found here

Workplaces and schools are open.

For further information regarding restrictions at red, please click here

MBIE & Business NZ have issued guidance on how to plan your business for Omicron. This includes advice on how to reduce the risk of having COVID-19 spread in your workplace, and financial assistance available to you if required. 

Current financial schemes available are: 

Please click here to read through the updated MBIE guidance. 

CHASNZ Protocols
CHASNZ continues to have helpful information on how to manage your construction sites. Resources include COVID-19 Protection Framework Protocols and what to do if a worker tests positive for COVID-19 on site. 

Please click here to download the CHASNZ protocols.  

Mental Health and Wellbeing
Master Builders is here 24/7 to support our members. We are continuing to provide our member counselling service, available anytime if you need support. You can call 0508 664 981 and be connected with professional, qualified support. Find out more by clicking here.

We understand this is a stressful time for many people. Please visit the Mates in Construction website for more information or call the national Telehealth Service on 1737. 

Kia Kaha. 
David Kelly.