COVID-19: Andrew Little blindsided by news 10,000 healthcare workers will go on strike

Health Minister Andrew Little was blindsided by the news 10,000 healthcare workers will go on strike. 

Those going on strike include contact tracers and lab workers who carry out COVID-19 testing, saying they've had enough of being disrespected by their employers.

There'll be two 24-hour strikes on March 4 and 18 - when the Omicron outbreak could be at its peak.

"If we go on strike, COVID testing will be delayed. We need to be listened to by the Government and we need to be appreciated for all the work that we do," says laboratory technician Sue.

But Little was blindsided when asked about it on Thursday.

"I'm not familiar with exactly what you're talking about so I'm reluctant to comment on that," he says.

"You've ambushed me, I'm sorry, you've ambushed me and I'm not familiar with that."

He later released a statement saying he "gets their frustration" since sometimes negotiations take a long time.

"As I understand it, the DHBs are now going to apply to the Employment Relations Authority for facilitation to try and break through the remaining issues. I also understand that they are claiming pay equity, there is a separate process for dealing with pay equity and separate legislation for that. So I think trying to mix the two up is not particularly helpful," Little says.

"We want to make sure that this part of the health workforce are well-rewarded for what they do. And I'm very keen to see that collective bargaining for their agreement concluded properly and appropriately and fairly. And I'm urging the DHBs to do everything they can to come to the party, to come to terms and reach agreement to avoid a strike action happening."

Little says he would urge unions and District Health Boards to do "everything they can" to reach an agreement.

"I think if they haven't through negotiation been able to reach agreement now, use facilitation via the Employment Relations Authority, take that as an opportunity and do everything they can to avoid industrial action," he says.

"The reality is most workers and health workers will be no different, would rather not take industrial action. They do want to know that their wishes are understood and that fair agreements are reached."

It comes as New Zealand marked another record day for new cases after 1573 were reported.

And there's been no easing up on PCR testing, with more than 32,000 carried out on Wednesday.

But disease modeller Dion O'Neale says Thursday's numbers don't tell the full story.

"Today's new infections are probably likely to be four-times the 1500 today, that's on the order of 5000 or 6000 new infections today."

Those are infections that will soon turn into official cases.

And nowhere's immune. Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland is working to limit the spread of an outbreak after six staff and six patients tested positive.

Meanwhile, hospitalisations for COVID have gone up more than five-fold in just one week – from 12 to 63.

And we're far from the peak, with daily cases set to soar.

"It's really hard to tell what that peaking looks like. Part of that is because while we're describing this as one single outbreak, it's really a number of multiple outbreaks in different areas happening at different times," O'Neale says.