There are fears people will avoid getting tested for Covid-19, as new isolation rule changes mean household contacts could be asked to isolate for 24 days.
The Ministry of Health on Friday announced it would extend the isolation period for people with Covid-19 and their household contacts, increasing it to at least 14 days, including 72 hours symptom-free. The isolation period was previously 10 days.
Household members of contacts would need to remain in isolation for at least another 10 days, an increase from the previous seven-day time period.
The change was an interim measure because of the increased infectiousness of the Omicron variant, the Ministry said.
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Epidemiologist Michael Baker said the Government had shortened the isolation time periods on November 16.
“This is not new, actually we’ve just gone back to the time periods we had before that change a couple of months ago,” he said.
New data had been published in Japan about how long the incubation period of Covid’s Omicron variant was, which showed people shed the virus for longer after their diagnosis, Baker said.
“The Ministry is using emerging information and that seems reasonable to me … our management of the virus is still to keep Omicron out and we’ve got to have tougher rules to do that, but everything is going to change when the almost inevitable outbreak occurs here and then the Government may change the rules and shorten it if necessary,” he said.
Act leader David Seymour said the rules were unworkable, and they would lead to a domino effect where a household could be down for a month.
“The effect is that if you test positive, members of your household may have to isolate for 24 days. People who cannot afford that will have a strong incentive not to get tested, defeating the purpose of the policy. If the advice is taken seriously, it will cripple the health workforce and supply chains more generally.”
Seymour likened the Friday night announcement to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment tweeting that the MIQ lottery would also be paused, with critics saying the low-key rule changes were diverging from usual communications.
The Prime Minister has said the country will enter into the red traffic light system if Omicron enters the community – three border-related cases have been detected, including two Auckland Airport workers, and a person in Palmerston North who had left MIQ.
That person had tested negative five times in isolation, leading to questions about Omicron’s incubation period – thought to be up to 15 days.