24 Jan 2022

Covid-19: 'No silver bullet' against Omicron - Chris Hipkins

From Morning Report, 7:15 am on 24 January 2022

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is warning the public to expect large number of Covid-19 cases, and not to rely on masks to stop it.

The entire country is now in red traffic light setting with the news announced yesterday that Omicron is likely spreading in the community.

Hipkins told Morning Report that "the cat is out of the bag" and there will likely be a significant number of new cases to come.

"There are some unavoidable realities about this, and one of those unavoidable realities is that we will see Omicron spreading much more quickly than previous variants of the virus."

Hipkins said he has not had an overnight update from officials and has no new positive cases of Omicron to report.

On masks, he said the advice around using them was not to simply stock up on N95s, which have been found to be effective at protecting against Covid-19 when properly fitted.

"If you buy the wrong shape or the wrong size and it doesn't sit properly, then actually the extra protection that you could be getting from that, you won't necessarily get that."

Hipkins said the government will operationalise any new advice around masks and Omicron quickly as it comes in, but since the variant is so new there isn't much around yet.

He said the community should be prepared for lots of cases even with masks though.

"There's no silver bullet, we are going to experience a large number of cases. That is simply a reality that people will need to be prepared for."

Currently the advice is to use surgical masks, and Hipkins said the amount of them available to the public through channels like supermarkets is sufficient.

The government will be looking into how to best support more vulnerable areas of the community though.

There's no silver bullet, we are going to experience a large number of cases. That is simply a reality that people will need to be prepared for."

Booster timing

Hipkins said the government was not looking to move the recommended time between booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine or the paediatric vaccine doses.

Currently the gap between a second dose of the vaccine and a booster for adults is four months, and the gap between paediatric doses is eight weeks.

"If the advice comes back saying to shorten the gap between doses down, then of course we will consider that very carefully. At the moment we worked through that very carefully before Christmas, and our health official's best advice at that point was four months."

Hipkins says there is not much difference between three months and four months for the number of people eligible.

"The difference in terms of the number of people between the end of between now and sort of mid-March, it's only a couple of 100,000 extra people that would become eligible. So, we've already got the vast bulk of people being eligible by sort of late February early March anyway."