19 Jan 2022

Cabinet ministers to assess Covid-19 traffic light settings, border reopening and testing

9:43 am on 19 January 2022

Cabinet ministers will meet this afternoon to assess the traffic light settings across the country, most crucially, whether Northland will drop to orange.

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File image. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The outcome will be announced on Thursday as Labour MPs gather in New Plymouth for a new year caucus get-together.

The Cabinet meeting - the first this year - is set down for 4pm today and will canvass an array of matters relating to Covid-19.

As well as the regional restrictions, ministers are likely to also discuss the traffic light system's broader parameters, the planned border reopening, and testing requirements.

Northland is the only region to remain under Red restrictions with the remainder of the country at Orange.

Just 86 percent of those aged 12 and over in Te Tai Tokerau have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to the national average of 93 percent.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week encouraged New Zealanders to get boosted, warning that an eventual Omicron outbreak was "a case of when, not if".

Regions would shift to the toughest red light setting if the new variant was found to be spreading through the community, she said.

"What I expect is, over the coming weeks, to be able to share with you some of the additional preparation that has been done, over and above the work that we did on Delta, for the specific issue of Omicron," Ardern said.

"We have the ability to learn from other nations and see ... the way that Omicron is behaving and prepare ourselves."

Ardern signalled there would be changes to the processes and requirements surrounding testing, isolation and contact tracing.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday told Morning Report officials were developing advice on whether the traffic light system needed to be strengthened in the face of Omicron.

"It's quite clear that Omicron does escape vaccination," Bloomfield said.

A group of public health experts this week warned that the traffic light regime would not be sufficient to contain the spread of Omicron.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker recommended an urgent tightening at the border and a delay of its phased reopening.

Similarly, National Māori Pandemic Group member and Māori health provider Hāpai te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart said prevention must be the priority for the government and borders should remain closed due to the new variant.

Selah Hart from Hapai te Hauora,

Hāpai te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart. Photo: Supplied / Hapai te Hauora

She told Morning Report the country needed a more "fit for purpose approach" to the Omicron variant.

"We should always, first and foremost be trying to do everything that we can do to prevent the spread."

Keeping borders shut "has been one of our most critical protection tools that we have had ... only allowing those that absolutely necessarily need to be here or to come back".

Hart said the many cases of Omicron at the border signal how it could flood the health system.

"Looking at the number of cases of Omicron currently at the border, and that has the potential to flood the MIQ system, and we also need to be very mindful of how we're going to ensure that the everyday staff member that works in those isolation units is not going to go out and potentially spread that throughout the community."

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