First look at three phases of Government's COVID-19 Omicron response revealed

The three stages of the Government's Omicron response have been revealed, showing how the isolation period will reduce to 10 days for cases in the next phase. 

The current first phase continues the Government's 'stamp it out' approach to COVID-19, and will carry on while there are "some cases in the community". 

At this stage, COVID-19 cases must isolate for 14 days while contacts must isolate for 10. However, household contacts will have to isolate for 14 days plus an additional 10 days.

First look at three phases of Government's COVID-19 Omicron response revealed

COVID-19 cases in the community will continue to be identified using PCR nasal swab tests. A positive result will trigger a phone call to the case from the Ministry of Health. QR scanning and case interviews will help to identify contacts. 

The objective of the second phase, which Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said on Wednesday will come into effect when there are still "less than 1000" cases a day, is to slow the spread of Omicron. 

The isolation period for cases will reduce to 10 days and seven days for contacts. A positive PCR test will confirm cases of COVID-19, but rapid antigen tests will start to be used in addition to identify symptomatic people and close contacts. 

"They will be useful when the laboratories cannot provide PCR results within a useful time frame because of large volumes or because of transport delays," Dr Verrall said. 

These rules won't apply to essential workers. If workers included in the yet-to-be-determined 'essential worker' list are flagged as a contact, they will be able to return to work with evidence of a negative rapid antigen test. 

"Household contacts will actively be managed by contact tracing services, with close contacts requiring a PCR test on day five," Dr Verrall said. 

"Digital technology is used more in this phase. Cases will be notified via text message and be directed to an online self-investigation tool which will focus on high risk exposures. Information will be provided via email and phone based interviews will still take place where it's required."

The third phase comes into play when cases are in the thousands. 

The definition of contacts will change to household and household-like contacts only. This will mean only the highest risk contacts will need to be isolated. But the isolation periods will remain the same - 10 days for cases and seven for contacts. 

Due to so many cases per day, the focus of PCR testing will only be for priority groups, though those groups will still be able to use a rapid antigen for symptomatic diagnosis. Rapid antigen tests will be available at GPs, pharmacies, testing centres or workplaces for symptomatic or critical workers. 

"The Omicron variant is markedly less severe than prior variants," Dr Verrall said. 

"One US report suggests the hospitalisation rate is 10 times less than the Delta variant. Its transmission and severity is also reduced by vaccination.

"So far, we've been focused on keeping Omicron out of the community for as long as possible while we roll out vaccinations to children and boosters for our adult population. 

"Now that it is here, we expect case numbers to grow rapidly and put our health system under considerable pressure."