COVID-19: Close contacts of NZ's first Omicron cases stunned high-risk travellers put on their MIQ floor, have stay extended

There are now eight Omicron cases in New Zealand - all of them isolating in MIQ facilities.

Six of them are completely unrelated, and the Ministry of Health says that suggests they didn't pass the virus onto each other on flights or in MIQ.

Even so, all the other passengers on those flights will have to stay in MIQ for ten days.

Robert Turner was stunned when he discovered he and his son who travelled from Japan were sharing a floor in MIQ with travellers from Dubai.

He figured many of those travellers would have come from the epicentre of the pandemic - Europe.

"It makes no sense to put low-risk and high-risk countries together," he says.

Last night, his fears were realised. There are Omicron cases on his floor of the Ibis. He and his son have been classed as close contacts, their stay extended to 10 days. It's delaying his urgent visit to his parents - his father is seriously unwell.

"It's been more than two years," he says.

"We followed all the advice, put off travel, but sometimes you can't put things off any longer and now  that we're finally here, to be an hour from them and not be able to see them is heartbreaking."

Omicron brought its devastation to New Zealand with incredible speed. It went from South Africa in November, to Europe and the US - and two days ago Christchurch MIQ, moving faster than any previous variant.

It's reached more than 80 countries.

"It almost certainly will take over the world in the next few weeks and months,"  University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker warns.

In Auckland, confidence is in the air thanks to high vaccination rates.

"That should hopefully curb any kind of infection," one person says.

"I hope the rest of the country, those that aren't as vaccinated, take the Omicron variant as a warning."

But this is a mutation good at evading immunity. Some research shows two doses of Pfizer is only 34 percent effective against Omicron infection. With a booster that increases to 76 percent.

The standard two doses continue to do the most important job - protect against severe disease.

"There may be some time in the future when we decide that a variant is sufficiently benign that we can allow it to wash over the country. I don't think we've reached that point," Prof Baker says.

Contrary to popular belief, a new study has found there is no evidence Omicron is any milder than Delta.

"Nearly everyone who is being infected now has either had the vaccine or previously been infected or both," University of Auckland computational biologist Dr David Welch says.

That existing immunity could be helping prevent serious disease - underscoring the vital role vaccines play in efforts to keep people alive and out of the hospital.