As New Zealand begins its first day under the red traffic light system, it remains unclear how many people in Taranaki will be forced into home isolation after flights to and from New Plymouth were flagged as close contacts of a crew member who tested positive to Omicron.
Nine members of a Motueka family, who have tested positive for the Covid-19 variant, flew back to Nelson on January 16 on a flight shared by an Air NZ crew member who also tested positive for Omicron.
The escort then worked on a further four flights, all of which are now locations of interest, including flight NZ 5049 from Auckland to New Plymouth at 7:50pm on January 19 and flight NZ 5042 from New Plymouth to Auckland at 1:50pm the following day.
The government put the entire country in the red at 11:59 pm on Sunday evening. 24 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the community, with eight people hospitalized and 47 new cases at the border. No new cases have been reported in Taranaki.
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Callum Montrose, a passenger on the flight to New Plymouth, was called on Saturday while he was working in town to tell him he was a close contact. He was now in isolation in a motel for 10 days until January 29.
Montrose was originally scheduled to fly home to Nelson on Sunday.
“I travel all the time for work and the Covid thing, I haven’t worried too much about it myself, but that’s kind of how I am,” he said.
“But it came as a surprise, I think. I’m a pretty easygoing kind of guy, so I guess it’s just something else for another day.”
Montrose, who has been double vaccinated, said the flight from Auckland was far from full. He hadn’t spoken to anyone else who had been on board since the landing. He would have his first test on Monday.
Staff from the Taranaki District Health Board and the Taranaki Health Protection Unit met on Sunday afternoon to review the implications of the country’s transition to the red alert level.
Every region went to the red institution regardless of whether that area reported a confirmed Omicron case, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expected the country to remain in the red for “several weeks”.
For those using vaccination passes, the red setting means that there are limits of 100 people and that a meter distance must be kept in catering establishments, public facilities, gyms, indoor and outdoor events (which must also be seated), and for gatherings such as weddings and church services.
Early childhood education centers and schools can remain open with public health measures, while tertiary education can also remain open with vaccines required on site, in addition to one meter social distancing.
Working from home is encouraged; however, companies with close contacts, including hairdressers, can operate within public health requirements.
Public facilities such as museums, zoos, libraries, gyms and swimming pools can open, with capacity limits based on the number of people who can visit, subject to social distancing of one meter.
If the vaccine pass system is not used by a company or organization in the red setting, catering establishments will only be able to operate contactless and gatherings such as weddings will be limited to 25 people. This limit includes children, but does not include site staff.
Businesses with close contacts, such as hairdressers, as well as gyms and all indoor and outdoor events, cannot open or continue without the system.
A spokesperson for the New Plymouth District Council referred to stuff to its website for updates, but confirmed that all of its sites, including libraries, art galleries, museums, zoos, parks, venues and swimming pools would be open Monday with capacity restrictions.
The switch to red would almost inevitably end any chances of the Synthony concert going ahead at the Bowl of Brooklands on Feb. 5.
Promoter David Higgins, of Duco Events, was in the United States and had only just caught up with the change in alert levels.
He had not had the opportunity to discuss what would happen to his New Zealand-based staff, but was critical of the government’s Covid response on several levels.
It will also largely be business as usual at South Taranaki District Council facilities, with communications manager Gerard Langford reporting that libraries and other locations are already implementing social distancing with restrictions.
“We will ensure that we comply with all new guidelines regarding the number of people allowed into sites and the limits around them, but we remain open,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government’s announcement of warning level changes did not cause any noticeable panic buying at supermarkets across New Plymouth.
The longest line in town on Sunday was outside the main vaccination center.
Taranaki DHB’s Covid-19 response manager, Gillian Campbell, said everyone in the region should be prepared for potential community transmission.
“Our public health team is currently working on the exposure events associated with the Air New Zealand flights that flew into New Plymouth and departed the following day with a positive crew member on board.
“All close contacts have been contacted and are isolating and being tested for Covid-19.”
Campbell said there are no sites of interest to report for Taranaki at this stage, but anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms should get tested as soon as possible.
“We have met with our healthcare providers and there are plans to increase staff capacity around testing and vaccination as needed.”
dr. Taranaki DHB’s health officer Jonathan Jarman said that while Omicron was significantly more contagious, vaccinations, tests and face coverings could help limit the spread.
“I also encourage parents and carers to have their children aged 5-11 vaccinated as well, as it not only protects them but also reduces the chances of Covid-19 entering your household.”
He added: “We’ve managed to wipe out Delta three times in Taranaki in the last few months, so we need to give this Omicron variant our best shot as well.”