Two of New Zealand’s most distinguished Covid-19 specialists have warned that the nation is unprepared to stop the well being system from being overloaded by an Omicron outbreak, with doubtless deadly penalties.
Otago College’s Dr Nick Wilson and Dr Michael Baker additionally stated it was solely a “matter of weeks” earlier than the extremely transmissible variant seeped into the neighborhood resulting from border failures.
Wilson stated that regardless of New Zealand’s excessive vaccination charges, the variety of adults who had obtained a booster dose of the vaccine – important for minimising the consequences of Omicron – stays dangerously low, and famous that the vaccine rollout for kids between 5 and 11 nonetheless had not begun.
New Zealand obtained its first cargo of Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine solely on the weekend, and intends to start baby vaccinations from 17 January, regardless of some comparable nations starting their baby vaccine rollout late final yr.
Omicron’s quick incubation interval additionally means New Zealand’s system for figuring out and containing new neighborhood instances can be a lot much less efficient.
Wilson panned the nation’s site visitors gentle system – which replaced the more stringent alert-level system final yr – as “not match for function” with Omicron resulting from its tolerance for comparatively important social interplay for vaccinated folks when Covid is locally.
Baker agreed, calling for the federal government to quickly reinstate an amended model of the alert stage system. “The site visitors gentle system received’t assist us very a lot as a result of it was by no means designed to dampen down transmission, it was solely designed to nudge folks in the direction of vaccination,” Baker stated.
Till these weaknesses had been mounted, he stated, “we have to massively flip down the faucet of individuals arriving in New Zealand”. Wilson agreed: “The precedence is to have a tighter border in order that we don’t should vaccinate children and conduct a booster program throughout an outbreak.”
The pair referred to as for a “important tightening” of the variety of New Zealanders getting into the nation.
Over the weekend, 64 optimistic Covid instances had been recorded inside New Zealand’s oversubscribed managed isolation services (MIQ) for incoming travellers, a lot of which had been anticipated to be Omicron.
Wilson stated he was “perplexed” that poor air flow and shared areas inside MIQ had not been mounted and that the ensuing “excessive danger” of an Omicron outbreak was “unacceptable”.
To alleviate the strain on MIQ, Wilson stated, the federal government must require fast antigen testing for travellers instantly previous to permitting them on flights, and cap the variety of travellers coming from high-risk nations such because the UK, where Omicron rates have skyrocketed.
Such measures can be controversial. The federal government is dealing with important strain from advocacy teams like Grounded Kiwis to make it simpler for abroad New Zealanders to return residence. The nation’s borders have been shut since March 2020.
Spokesperson Martin Newell stated Grounded Kiwis strongly agreed with common fast antigen testing for travellers and strictly limiting travellers’ publicity to one another. Nevertheless, he emphasised that “you possibly can’t deny the fitting of New Zealanders to have the ability to return to their nation”.
Wilson, nevertheless, stated: “The precedence for the federal government needs to be on defending the 5 million New Zealanders in New Zealand.”
The Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, has been approached for remark.