COVID-19: Government has no plans to introduce mandatory isolation for flu after call from expert Michael Baker

The Government has no plans to introduce mandatory self-isolation for influenza despite an expert saying it would help the country's hospitals cope.

Hospitals are overwhelmed with several emergency departments issuing free GP vouchers in an effort to address out of control demand.

The healthcare sector is being hit by a combination of severe worker shortages, COVID-19 and a particularly bad flu season.

Last week epidemiologist Michael Baker called for the Government to introduce mandatory self-isolation for people who have influenza.

Baker suggested this along with mask-wearing and vaccination could help hospitals cope.

"People who test positive for coronavirus must isolate for seven days, starting from when you first become symptomatic or the day you test positive - whichever is first," he said.

"I think the same rule should apply [for the flu]. You should basically stay at home at least until you don't have any symptoms, do a RAT [Rapid Antigen Test] and obviously that's seven days [if positive]."

But speaking with AM's Ryan Bridge on Monday Labour Minister Megan Woods, who was filling in for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said the Government has no plans of introducing isolation requirements for the flu.

"There has never been any suggestion from the Government that we're going to have an isolation period for the flu," Woods said.

"We all encourage each other, and I think we encourage our family and our friends and certainly our colleagues that if you are sick, you should stay home and get better. I think that's something that people are getting better at doing. We certainly haven't been considering any mandatory isolation period for the flu."

It comes after Health Minister Andrew Little claimed last week demand in hospitals was beginning to drop.

"The wait times in the EDs are starting to fall away already because what compounded the situation over the last two or three weeks was a combination of there are still elevated levels of COVID-19, there are much higher levels of influenza illnesses that weren't expected at this particular time, and the much higher levels of staff absenteeism. Those things are all starting to change already," Little said last week.

But his comments didn't go down with several healthcare workers who told AM they were struggling to cope with the levels of demand.

An Auckland hospital worker called Steph told AM the Minister's suggestion demand is dropping is "an absolute lie".

"To hear him say that these situations are dissipating is an absolute lie. I work in a hospital in Auckland - it is rammed," they said.

"Corridors are full, wait times are crazy, elective operating lists have been cancelled because of bed shortages. Staff shortages are an issue, but so is the simple fact that our health system is way under-resourced and nothing changed in the two years the borders were closed and the Government was preparing for the health system to have increased capacity."

And last month the College of GPs urged mildly ill people to treat their illnesses at home because they're struggling to keep up with demand.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said at the time the situation is "very serious".

"There is very little spare capacity in the system at the moment due to the fact we have flu, we still have significant COVID around, we have other winter viruses floating around and often doctors, and nurses themselves are sick, so the workforce goes down.

"What is critically important is that we keep capacity open for those who do need to be seen urgently or do need that appointment. So it's a very difficult situation at the moment."