Kiwi epidemiologist warns Government threat of Omicron should see schools delay opening

A New Zealand epidemiologist has warned the Government a delayed start of opening schools is needed to prevent the effects of the Omicron variant of COVID-19

Amanda Kvalsvig, an epidemiologist from the University of Otago, said "we have time to act" which is a "huge advantage" - but New Zealand needed more key protections to be ready against Omicron.

This includes vaccines for young children and third doses for children 12 to 15 years, air filters and Co2 monitors in every classroom and respirator masks accessible to everyone, Dr Kvalsvig said on Twitter.

"We can't kid ourselves that omicron will be different here. We see what's happening in other places: people calling for ambulances that don't come, schools and other workplaces unable to function because everyone is sick," Dr Kvalsvig said. "We have a chance to prepare and must use it."

This follows the Australian state of Queensland's decision to push back its school year beginning from January 24 to February 7.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk posted on Twitter the delay was to avoid predicted Omicron wave peaks and give more time for children to get vaccinated.

However, Queensland - with a similar population to New Zealand - recorded more than 9500 community COVID-19 cases on Monday. New Zealand reported just 27 infections - with Omicron yet to leak out from our border.

New Zealand children aged 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 from Monday.  They will receive a "children's version" of the vaccine that is a lower dose and smaller volume.