Phase 3: Retailers must now be given the green light to sell rapid antigen tests – Barnett

On February 24, 2022, New Zealand will enter Phase 3 of the Omicron response at 11:59 p.m. Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today.

Hospitality and small businesses across the country are welcoming the government’s announcement to move New Zealand into Phase 3 of the Omicron outbreak response from midnight tonight.

But they say shortages of rapid antigen tests (RATS), lack of sufficient financial support and criteria for determining “critical workers” excluded most workers from their respective industries.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said: “The good news is that we are moving into phase 3 of our Omicron response, limiting isolation to only very close contacts of a case.

Michael Barnett, Chief Executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.  Photo / Provided
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. Photo / Provided

“But the bad news is that RATS are still not available to everyone, so we can move forward together,” he said.

“It’s all very well to reduce the isolation to household contacts of a case, but the government needs a dose of reality, stop going down the road of officials determining who are critical and RATS-eligible workers and speed up the introduction of retail for the public”, he mentioned.

“The ‘soon’ arrival of RATS on a supermarket shelf near you is not enough when the system and supply are overwhelmed by demand.

“Every New Zealand resident should be able to take a RAT test now to confirm they can go to work, return to school or go out safely to support struggling local businesses and our dead city centre,” a- he told the Herald.

Barnett said that with the evidence available from health experts, with most people being able to self-manage and self-report an infection “there really was no need to bring the country to a screeching halt.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed today that the country will move into Phase 3 of the Omicron Response at 11.59pm.

“Phase three will not mean a sudden change in terms of personal movement or restrictions,” Hipkins said.

“It will only be confirmed cases and their household contacts who will have to self-isolate.”

The RATS will be available at thousands of locations across the country and are expected to be available for purchase at retail outlets starting next month.

“And we have millions more coming in the next few days,” Hipkins said.

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said moving to Phase 3 was a “pragmatic decision for hospitality”.

“The move to phase 3 of the government’s Omicron response is good news for the hospitality industry, as it will allow staff to continue working and guests to enjoy going out.”

White said the pressure was high for change as the definition of close contact and a week-long isolation period unnecessarily keeps growing numbers of staff and customers at home.

“The rules had a devastating multiplier effect, turning the thousands of people with Covid-19 into tens of thousands of well or asymptomatic people stuck at home.

“The rules were unsustainable with the rapid spread of Omicron as they render up to 100% of staff ineligible for work and exacerbate an already low number of staff.”

Very recently, the industry has been allowed to develop its own definitions of close contacts on a case-by-case basis.

White said while a phase shift is welcome, it’s only one of the recovery tools. Another tool is financial support to weather the Omicron wave, and the narrow eligibility of the package announced on Monday has yet to be ironed out.

“After our urgent objections, we are now cautiously optimistic that the government did not intend to restrict eligibility so tightly and will remedy this by the time applications open on Monday,” he said. she declared.

The general manager of the Restaurant Association, Marisa Bidois.  Photo / Provided
The general manager of the Restaurant Association, Marisa Bidois. Photo / Provided

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said while moving to Phase 3 is a step in the right direction, there is still work to be done to slow the pace of business disruptions.

“This week alone, many of our businesses have to close as staff have become close contacts with Omicron cases,” Bidois said.

“While moving to Phase 3 is certainly helpful, we are also aware that our industry employs a large number of young people, many of whom live in apartment situations and larger households.

“This means that the chances of them becoming household contacts of positive cases are greater. Given that this is a workforce that cannot work from home, the ability to be able to test for work has never been more important.

“We would like to see access to the critical worker exemption that will allow employees who test negative to return to work expanded to more industries, including hospitality.”

Aimie Hines, head of public affairs and policy advice at Retail NZ, said she welcomed the move to Phase 3.

“Better access to RATS and changing the definition of close contact will reduce the levels of absenteeism that retailers currently face.

“Faster testing times through RATS, which means negative cases can return to work quickly, will reduce the current economic impact of staff isolation,” Hines said.

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