New Zealand turns 'red' as new Omicron cases detected

Move into 'red' gives employers option to allow staff to work from home

New Zealand turns 'red' as new Omicron cases detected

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Sunday that new restrictions will come into force from today after nine cases of Omicron were detected in a single family who flew to Auckland for a wedding earlier this month.

The 'red' setting is not a lockdown but includes heightened measures such as required mask wearing and limits on gatherings. Ardern is also personally affected, having cancelled her own wedding, which was due to take place next weekend.

She told reporters: "I just join many other New Zealanders who have had an experience like that as a result of the pandemic and to anyone who's caught up in that scenario, I am so sorry."

She added that the plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as Delta, including rapid testing, contact tracing, and isolating cases and contacts in order to slow the spread.

Workplaces can remain open under the "red" traffic light settings, according to government guidelines, with employees getting the option to work remotely.

"If it is appropriate for your job, you can work from home. Talk to your employer about what is appropriate for you," the government said.

Employees in some industries are also required to be vaccinated, such as food and drink services, events, close-proximity businesses, and indoor exercise facilities like gyms. They are also asked to wear face coverings to reduce chances of COVID-19 transmission.

"Workers in these businesses must be fully vaccinated, even if the business chooses not to operate with My Vaccine Pass requirements," said the guidelines.

Ardern's warning comes as the country continues to report rising Omicron cases, most of which are reported at quarantine facilities at the border. As a result, the government also halted the arrival of overseas citizens and visa holders, The Guardian reported.

Read more: NZ's first Omicron community exposure will not face police — ministry

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government will not be issuing new managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ) and did not disclose when they would be available again.

"Pausing the next MIQ lobby is a temporary position while MIQ is under extreme pressure from New Zealanders returning with Omicron," said Hipkins as quoted by The Guardian. "No decisions have been made on the date, sequence and conditions for the border reopening and cabinet will consider options within the next couple of weeks based on the most up-to-date advice. Until then, we are not in a position to release more MIQ rooms.”

The country has so far detected 440 Omicron cases since December 1, according to the Health Ministry. Overall, the country caseload stands at 14,959 infections, with 525 active cases as of January 20.

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