Government prepares Kiwis for Omicron, but are we ready?

We're masked, we're jabbed, but are we really ready to get COVID-19? 

The threat of the Omicron variant was concerning for Kiwis who spoke to Newshub, but they also accepted that it's on its way. 

"I'm not keen on it, but I think it's a probability rather than a possibility," one person said, while another described it as "a little bit scary but it is what it is".

"Working with children, trying to keep them as safe as possible is a little bit worrying now," another said. 

Red light or no, Omicron is coming. There were 15 new Omicron cases on Wednesday, including a first for Taranaki. There were no new cases in Tauranga after two were announced on Tuesday, but an early learning childhood centre was included in the locations of interest. 

Associate Health Minister Dr Asysha Verrall provided a reality check on Wednesday - that cases could go from the tens to the thousands in a matter of days. 

"A 10-case outbreak could reach 1000 new cases per day in just six to 12 days," she told a press conference. 

We have a new plan. Currently, at phase one, we're treating it like any other COVID. You know the drill: for every case, test, trace and isolate - stamp it out. Cases need to be isolated for two weeks while contacts must isolate for 10 days. 

But when our contact tracers can't handle that anymore, tracing goes out the window, and we enter phase two, where people are notified of their positive COVID test via text message. 

"The numbers are likely to be less than a thousand a day to move between phase one and phase two," Dr Verrall said. 

Phase two is "slow the spread" - isolation periods shorten to 10 days for cases and a week for contacts. Rapid antigen tests will also be used, so asymptomatic critical workers can return to work. 

In phase three there'll be thousands of daily cases. The definition of 'close contact' is narrowed to just household members, and cases will care for themselves. 

Phase three doesn't have a proper name, but New Zealand, this is the part where we learn to live with COVID. 

"That's why we are putting the planning in so we can carve our own path in our response to Omicron that we're living with it on our terms and protecting people," said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

At phase three, the labs won't be able to process enough nasal swabs, so rapid antigen testing becomes a mainstay. The Government is desperately trying to stock up. 

Health Works Group owner Clair Connor says her company was told the Government had commandeered all stock, leaving her in limbo.

"We had stock on order and we believed yesterday that we were going to get that stock - that's the Roche test," she told Newshub. 

"But we found out this morning from the supplier that all the stock had been commissioned and we wouldn't be getting any of our back orders."

Dr Bloomfield pushed back. 

"We're not commandeering all the stocks that private businesses have," he said. 

But National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop isn't buying it. 

"Having banned rapid tests for most of last year, they've not ordered any themselves," he told Newshub. "The Government is now thieving."

Newshub has seen an email from another supplier to a business which says: "Our government has seconded all the test kits we were going to supply to our customers... Essentially there are no more kits for private businesses".

Dr Bloomfield admits he's chatted to suppliers and requested forward orders be sent the Government's way. 

"The orders of tests that haven't yet arrived in the country... those be consolidated into the Government's stock."

ACT leader David Seymour sees it differently. 

"Consolidated into Government stocks... The guy's got to be kidding, he's nicked them."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems. 

Some businesses will be able to get rapid antigen tests from the Government, but they're still working out which ones - it'll just be critical workers.

Critical businesses are different to those essential businesses we got used to in lockdown. It'll be a much narrower scope, but expect those who keep the lights on, keep the hospitals open and keep food in our bellies - that's about it.

This is not an ideal situation. Behind the scenes, the Government will acknowledge that.

Newshub has been told the manufacturers had more orders than they could meet. During regular communications, they raised that with the Ministry of Health and the Government simply told them their order was most important to preserve critical services.

Tough luck everyone else.