COVID-19: Employers and Manufacturers Association says NZ 'unprepared' for Omicron, needs to order more tests

Once Omicron is in the community, the Ministry of Health is preparing for it to be the dominant COVID-19 variant within weeks. 

As the number of community cases drops, positive results at the border are on the rise, with 266 cases of Omicron being detected since December 1. 

Now businesses are desperate to add rapid antigen tests (RATs) as another layer of defence against the disease. 

It's a simple enough concept: spit, swirl, wait. 

"You have your test, a cup of tea, scone, coffee - whatever. If you have a positive test you can't go into the office, if you have a negative test you go into work," explains Alan McDonald, the head of advocacy and strategy at the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA).

Overseas it's been dubbed 'the big sick' - the huge number of people absent from work, isolating because of COVID-19. It's led to empty supermarket shelves and cancelled planes and trains.

The EMA says to avoid the same fate, the Government needs to order more tests - and fast. 

"We need tens of millions of rapid antigen tests in the country now - and we're really concerned, the perception is, and to us the reality is, that we're underprepared," McDonald said.

There were 18 new cases in the community on Friday and 43 at the border. Analysis by Newshub shows the threat caused by Omicron's rapid spread overseas is now greater than the Delta outbreak in Aotearoa. 

"MIQ is not leak-proof," says infectious diseases physician Kurt Krause.

The Delta outbreak is still spreading, with three Auckland bars being listed as locations of interest on Friday. But it's Omicron that's causing growing concern at the Ministry of Health..

The Ministry of Health says if an Omicron incursion into the community resulted in an outbreak, Omicron would likely be the predominant variant in New Zealand within two to four weeks.

But Prof Krause says RATs may not be as effective with the Omicron variant.

Currently, RATs are only available for unvaccinated people from pharmacies. 

A week ago, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay told Newshub there would be an announcement on RATs for the vaccinated public this week.

But the Ministry of Health was unable to provide any update today.