COVID-19: Government set to announce next step in Omicron response

By Amy Williams of RNZ 

Those on the frontline of the Omicron outbreak are hoping for a swift move to phase three of the government's response.

It would mean fewer people will have to isolate if they come into contact with a case and people will be able to self-report infections or get a rapid antigen test (RAT), leaving PCR testing for only the highest risk contacts.

It is widely expected the government will announce the move at a scheduled media conference today.

Auckland GP Dr John Carter said it was about time.

"We have to move away from swab testing, and there's an announcement that we'll be delivering RAT tests which has come upon us pretty quickly, we've got no real time to figure out how to distribute those to our patients but we'll work it out as we've done all along."

Vicky Chan from Pakuranga Unichem said she was already getting phone calls from people wanting to access RATs but pharmacies would not be able to give them to the general public.

"The amount of phone calls just inquiring how do they get a RAT test either because they are close contacts, casuals, or symptomatic that's gone through the roof, but also from the general public wanting to have access to personal RAT tests as well."

Under phase three, infected people will still be encouraged to notify close contacts and isolate at home.

Dr Carter said people would need to use their common sense.

"For most people, this is a cold and really the country can't come to a screaming halt because of a cold. People have to be able to isolate at home and manage their symptoms as they normally would and just follow the sensible rules."

Even so, GPs have been warning they may not be able to cope with the number of cases in the community.

New modelling shows the peak of Covid-19 in the Omicron outbreak in Auckland and Northland could reach 4000 daily cases, if transmission is low, or 9000 if it is not.

Under phase three, clinical care and welfare support will be targeted to those who need it most.

Pasifika GP Network chair Dr Api Talemaitoga hoped the next step would come before the weekend.

"We've been expecting it and I hope they announce it soon," he said.

"I've encouraged the community to think about this as getting prepared because this is something you can do, you can self-manage yourself in isolation, self-manage your test once you know how to do it and basically take control."

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield will announce the next steps in the Omicron response at midday.