Update from Chris Hipkins – Minister for COVID-19 Response

This is a Transcript from Chris Hipkins – Minister for COVID-19 Response: Thursday 24th February 2022

Unfortunately, our regular providers have not been able to provide sign language interpreters for today’s event.  Closed captioning is available on the Ministry of Health’s live web feed, and a full transcript is also available on the Ministry’s website.

I can confirm today’s daily community case total of 6,137, following on from 3,297 on Wednesday and 2,846 on Tuesday.

That continued rise, and in hospitalisations – which are today sitting at 205 – means the Government is now confirming a shift to Phase 3 of our planned Omicron response as of 11:59pm 24th February 2022.

Ministers have continued to monitor the outbreak and carefully consider public health advice before coming to this decision.

And with the numbers rising sharply over the past week, I doubt that the shift will be a huge surprise to many – it’s what our system has been gearing up for.

Details of the changes and what they may mean for you are being provided on the Unite Against Covid and Ministry of Health websites, however, I want to provide reassurance that Phase 3 won’t mean any sudden ‘lurch’ in terms of personal restrictions or movements.

That’s because our ‘traffic light system’ has been specifically designed to allow a smooth gear change through the various phases, to keep people safe but with as little disruption to lives and livelihoods as possible.

Our priorities now shift to isolating those with the virus and their household contacts to reduce the spread, while at the same time supporting supply chains and essential businesses and services to keep operating.

We’ll do this with a number of key changes, in the third phase of our plan.

Only confirmed cases and their household contacts will be required to isolate. All other contacts will now be asked to monitor symptoms but do not have to isolate.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) will become the primary form of testing in the community, with availability from thousands of sites around the country including pharmacies and GP practices. And millions more are arriving. With major shipments today and due over the weekend.

Meanwhile, we expect businesses will be able to make RATs available to the public for purchase through retail outlets from March.

We’re also now moving to a stance of greater self-management. This will include the use of a new self-investigation tool that will 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 locations such as hospitals or aged care facilities. There will, however, be continued support for those members of our community who are not digitally set up.

And, with hospitalisations now the major focus, daily case numbers will become a less important metric.

These are critically important, practical changes to ease some of the pressure on our health system over the next three to six weeks, and ensure critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy keeps moving

There’s no doubt the next few weeks are going to be tough, but New Zealand is better-positioned than most countries to respond to Omicron. We will get through it. We’ve seen and learned from what’s happening overseas.

We just need to stick to our plan as we manage higher numbers of cases in the coming weeks before we reach our peak.

Because so many of us are vaccinated and Omicron is less severe we can have a more devolved response and much greater self-management to enable a greater focus on the more vulnerable.

Preparation and supporting one another will be key. We’ve been asking people to prepare for the last few weeks, both mentally and by putting plans in place. Making an isolation plan or ‘stay at home’ kit with friends and whānau, and being ready to use the tools that are available will free up vital resources.

Our high vaccination rate should make the next period less of a worry for the vast majority of people. But we are still strongly encouraging people to get boosted. You are 10 times less likely to need hospital care and it helps lower the rates of transmission. So please, for those who aren’t yet boosted, it’s now urgent.

Care and support will continue to be there for those who need it most, as it always has been. Community providers are resourced to provide care in the community and wraparound health and welfare support services alongside clinical care will focus on those with high needs.

Whatever Phase 3 might mean for you – as people, as businesses, as organisations, as communities – I want to reinforce that it’s been carefully planned for and that New Zealand is in better shape than most countries.

Keep supporting one another, and we’ll soon be through this.

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