With Omicron case numbers rising, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the West Coast, if it’s not here already.
High rates of Omicron alongside isolation periods for close contacts are putting a significant strain on supply chains and the provision of services across the country.
Isolation rules have the potential to leave businesses without enough staff to operate. We are already seeing the impact of this in Queenstown, with businesses being forced to close.
It’s important our business community is well prepared. There may be critical members of staff without whom your business will not be able to operate. Identifying these staff and looking at ways to manage their potential absence will be critical in the coming weeks.
There are two initiatives to help businesses manage absenteeism and continue operating as Omicron spreads. If a close contact is vaccinated and asymptomatic, they may be able to continue to work if they can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ or by registering for the ‘close contact exemption scheme’.
Any business may have a worker who is a close contact on-site if the worker is not customer facing, and can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ while at work and traveling to and from work.
Under the ‘close contact scheme’ those who register as a critical business will be able to access free rapid antigen test kits and keep working, provided daily tests are negative.
Under the scheme the list of critical services is quite broad including food production and its supply chain, key public services like health and emergency services, lifeline utilities such as power and water supplies, transport, critical financial services, news media and social welfare. It also includes human and animal health and welfare.
Registering for the close contact scheme should only take around 10 minutes and may provide an avenue to keep your business open if staff become close contacts.
If you have any trouble registering, or have questions regarding your eligibility, please contact the team at DWC for assistance. We are also interested to talk to businesses who have had their registration turned down.
Phase two of Omicron response
Isolation requirements reduced
Last night New Zealand shifted to Phase Two of the Government's Omicron response, which means there are different isolation and quarantine requirements for cases and contacts:
- anyone with symptoms must isolate and get a test
- cases need to isolate for 10 days
- close contacts need to isolate for seven days (with a test on day five).
Bubble of one worker exemption
Available to all businesses
At Phase Two and Phase Three of the Omicron response, any business or sole trader may have a worker who is a close contact on-site if this worker is not customer facing, and can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ while at work (including travel to and from work)
The requirements are that the worker:
- is vaccinated,
- does not have any symptoms (asymptomatic),
- is able to maintain an individual ‘bubble of one’ while at work (whether indoors or outdoors),
- they are not required to use rapid antigen testing as part of this, nore are businesses required to register for 'bubble of one'.
Close contact exemption scheme
Available to 'critical' businesses
During Phases Two and Three of the Omicron response, workers at registered critical services who are vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts of a COVID-19 case will be able to continue to work, as long as they return a negative rapid antigen test prior to each day/shift they are at work during the isolation period, and follow specific health protocols.
They will only be allowed to go to work – not anywhere else.
Workers who are participating in the scheme will be able to collect free Rapid Antigen Test kits from a collection site.
Business.govt.nz has a self-assessment tool to help businesses assess whether they are critical. If you do not meet the criteria using this tool, but feel you should be eligible, please contact DWC.
Rapid antigen tests
Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are a type of test for COVID-19 that are generally taken with a front of nose swab and can be taken under supervision or you can take one for yourself.
RATs are a valuable tool during the Omicron outbreak because they return results faster (in about 20 minutes) compared to a PCR test. However, they are not as reliable as PCR tests.
If you are a critical worker, you can get free RATs.
Businesses outside of the critical services groups can also use RATs as part of managing the health and safety of their workers in their response to COVID-19 but will need to secure use and pay for their own private supplies of RATs.