National Party leader Chris Luxon says rest homes, retirement villages and at-risk communities must be flooded with boosters if New Zealand is to withstand Omicron.
Jacinda Ardern confirmed the country will enter the red traffic light setting at 11.59pm tonight in response to community cases of the highly transmissible Covid-19 strain.
The Prime Minister said nine cases reported in the Nelson-Marlborough region were confirmed as the Omicron variant.
The cases involved a family who attended an event with more than 100 people, but the PM said Omicron was circulating in Auckland as well.
Luxon addressed media this afternoon in Orewa, north of Auckland.
“We’ve been slow on rollout, we’ve been slow on vaccine boosters,”Luxon said.
“We’ve been slow on ICU beds,” he added.
Luxon said rapid antigen tests (RATs) were needed urgently, and the country currently had less than one such testing kit per person in New Zealand.
“We need tens of millions of kits. We’ve got 4.6 million.”
He said people had been talking about RATs for many months but no real progress had been made on distributing the kits.
He said local businesses had been prevented from easily accessing and using the rapid tests.
Luxon said the country was not in a great position to face Omicron, but it was important now to protect the most vulnerable people.
“We need to scramble, we need to secure those tests and get them here as quickly as possible.”
The National Party leader said scenarios specific to how Omicron might impact workplaces needed to be considered.
He said an example might be how a transport business would function if all its truck drivers contracted the virus.
“If we can get our defences in place…that helps us at the other end of this as well.”
He urged people to get vaccinated and get booster shots as fast as possible.
Luxon said he was especially concerned about a dearth of rapid test kits.
“I can go to any supermarket in many other countries in the world, and they are freely available.”
He said if he were in charge, he’d be in frequent contact with district health boards to get detailed information about the resources needed to battle Omicron.
“There’s a difference between talking about things, and getting things done.
“I used to run an airline and we used to think…about risk management,” he added.
He said the Government was using too much spin and not taking enough action.
Luxon said most people were adhering to health guidelines such as mask-wearing, but a sluggish Government response was the reason these actions were still necessary.
“We’re doing them, frankly, because we don’t have a healthcare system that’s prepared.”
Luxon said the arrival of last year’s Delta variant was foreshadowed for a long time, and New Zealand was unprepared then.
He said in a similar way, the country was unprepared for Omicron now.
“We’re trying to bide time, yet again.”
He said children’s vaccines and booster shots should have been vigorously promoted before Christmas.
Luxon said he and his family were vaccinated a long time ago, partly because he had a relative working in MIQ.
“I feel I’ve taken as much personal responsibility as I can around masking and all those sorts of things.”
He said public funding of face masks was a secondary issue now, and RATs and protecting the elderly were more important.
Earlier today, he said the Government had not adequately prepared for Omicron, and intensive care units needing upgrading..
“We need to protect the vulnerable. We should inundate rest homes, retirement villages and at-risk communities with boosters.”
He said the Government was still stuck in a Delta mindset, referring to the coronavirus variant that sent the country into lockdown last August.
“Now Omicron is here, and we are the fourth slowest in the developed world for boosters.”
He said the Government entered “go slow” mode over summer.
Ardern said there was not yet a clear lead on the index case linking the South Island family to the international border.
In previous local Omicron cases, such a link had been discovered.
“Our plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as Delta where we will rapidly test, contact trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread.”
She said overseas evidence showed Omicron was significantly more infectious than the Delta variant.
Ardern said the new strain was likely to create far more Covid-19 cases than at any time previously in the pandemic.
“But the difference to previous outbreaks is that we are vaccinated and we are even better prepared,” the PM said.
At least 93.7 per cent of eligible people have now received at least two vaccine doses, and23.2 per cent have had a booster shot.
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