Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Exemption scheme to keep sector running

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The Government has announced a new close contact exemption scheme to help keep critical supply chains running if impacted by Omicron.
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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government has for weeks been working with industry bodies and critical services to set up a workable scheme.

The Government has announced a new close contact exemption scheme to help keep critical supply chains running if impacted by Omicron.

Critical services include food producers and its supply chain, health and emergency services, power and water supplies, transport, critical financial services, news media and social welfare, as well as human and animal health and welfare.

The scheme will allow close contacts to keep going to work instead of isolating if they return a negative rapid antigen test.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government has for weeks been working with industry bodies and critical services to set up a workable scheme that gives workers an exemption from close contact isolation requirements if they return daily negative tests.

“The scheme will be supported by rapid antigen tests supplied either directly by the business or service, or through our health system in an easy and accessible way,” Hipkins said.

From February 10, businesses and organisations can register online as a critical service if they think they will meet the criteria when the country enters phase two of its Omicron management plan.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said it will be up to businesses to self-assess and decide if they want to participate in the scheme. 

In doing so, there needs to be an awareness that bringing close contacts into the workplace comes with risks. While the new scheme will help businesses continue to operate, rapid antigen testing is about 80% accurate.

This may mean they have someone onsite who has covid-19 and could infect other workers, which could further compromise business operations.

“Any workers identified for the scheme will need to be vaccinated. If at any point they return a positive test, they will need to take a PCR test and isolate,” Verrall said.

“Those businesses that decide to register will be issued with a letter that, when New Zealand shifts to phase 2 of our Omicron response, will enable eligible workers to either use rapid antigen tests that their employers may hold, or collect rapid antigen tests from a collection site.

“Workers will also be expected to remain in isolation outside of work hours as they will in many instances be living with household members who have Omicron.”

Hipkins also confirmed guidelines for people who work alone such as farmers. These workers will be able to continue operating in a “bubble of one” if they are identified as a contact, he said.

“That means, for instance, farmers or sole traders, including plumbers and residential builders, who operate out of their own space and work alone can continue to do that as long as they are vaccinated, don’t have symptoms and don’t have contact with anyone else,” Hipkins said.

“These guidelines apply to any workers, not just critical workers and do not require them to return regular tests.”

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