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Be ready for the red light

New Zealand is about to be stopped short by a red light.

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the whole country was now at Orange but would go red within 24-48 hours of the first confirmed case of community transmission of Omicron.

It could happen sooner rather than later.

Three community cases of Omicron in Auckland have been confirmed and one close contact location of interest announced, and one person with a suspected case has been identified in Palmerston North and 15 locations of interest published on the ministry’s website Health so far.

Preparations are well underway for Omicron in the south, and on Wednesday evening more than 100 primary health care workers were briefed on plans for treating cases of the fast-spreading variant of Covid-19.

“We will need to ensure that we have the capacity to test in the community and care for recovering Covid patients in the community,” said WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs.

“It was a good meeting and it’s clear the practices are ready for what’s to come and hopefully we can deal with that once he’s here.”

In Australia, more than one million cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in the past 10 days, rapidly doubling the number of cases there since the start of the pandemic.

Although Omicron is considered less virulent than the Delta variant, overseas experience shows that its extremely rapid rate of transmission creates more cases and a larger number of people requiring hospital-level treatment.

If large numbers of Omicron cases emerge in Otago and Southland, many people are expected to be sick at home, and households should have plans in place and medical supplies on hand. to manage, Mr. Swanson-Dobbs said.

“The southern region is different to parts of Australia. We are very rural and very remote, so we need to work with practices and pharmacies to ensure they have the capability and ability to handle this variation of medicine. ‘Omicron.

“Testing across the region will be important, but it will also be essential to have support for Covid-positive patients at home and access to care.”

Modeling presented to the Southern District Health Board in early November, based on a Delta outbreak, painted a grim worst-case scenario of 880 cases per week in Otago and Southland and 24 cases per week in the most likely scenario, with high vaccination rates and basic public health measures.

Wards have been set aside at Dunedin Hospital for Covid-19 patients from the region and the SDHB is setting up self-isolation facilities across the region.

SDHB’s acting executive director of quality and clinical governance, Dr Hywel Lloyd, said medical professionals remained committed to eradicating Covid-19 if it entered the region, for as long as possible. .

“Public health would embark on a full-throttle public health response to eradicate it,” Dr Lloyd said.

“Beyond that, we’re thinking about how we can handle cases in the community when we have very rapidly accelerating numbers and what we’ll need to provide, and how they can reach out if they don’t. aren’t doing so well,” Dr Lloyd said.

Based on Omicron’s overseas experience, the SDHB predicted between 25% and 35% of hospital staff absent due to illness.

“Certain areas have yielded more, and that will have a significant impact on our ability to manage the current levels of care we can provide, and we’re going to have to make adjustments to what we do and what we focus on.”

Dunedin Hospital’s Covid-19 wards are on the seventh floor, part of the building now partially closed due to an outbreak of norovirus.

“Our infection control staff are doing an incredible job of trying to eliminate this,” Dr Lloyd said.

“This reinforces for everyone the importance of very good hand hygiene.”

Business South chief executive Mike Collins said business people were worried about how quickly the restrictions in the red box could be imposed and what impact they would have.

Ms Ardern said the whole country should turn red, and quickly, to try to prevent hospitals and the wider health system from being overwhelmed.

“Although we are better placed than most countries to minimize the spread of Omicron, we will have a higher number of cases than we are used to or have never experienced before.

“The red setting allows businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue, but includes mask-wearing and collection restrictions to help slow the spread of the virus and keep pressure on our healthcare system.”

Ms Ardern said for New Zealand to move from Red to Orange would require clear evidence that the health system was coping with the number of virus cases.

“We know we will experience cases in New Zealand at a level that we have never experienced before.”

She said New Zealand had the capacity to perform and process 40,000 PCR tests a day without any pressure on the health system, and that rapid antigen tests would be used more widely.

“Currently we have 4.6 million in the country and tens of millions on order.”