Govt introduces “critical worker” term as part of Covid response

In News5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJanuary 28, 2022

The Government has released further information regarding its response to Omicron as the variant continues to spread within New Zealand.

The National Road Carriers Association said New Zealand’s high vaccination rates, high mask use and Kiwi attitudes are putting the country in a good position to avoid the same Omicron trajectory seen elsewhere.

“It appears that New Zealand is not following the same trajectory as seen elsewhere regarding the rapid spread of Omicron. We have had two weddings and a funeral (not a movie title) that could have caused significant outbreaks yet they so far have not,” the Association said.

“We also have much smaller businesses in general and they all seem to have protocols in place that minimise exposure.

“As transport operators you are also fairly well prepared with vaccinated drivers, PPE use, bubbles and contactless delivery protocols in place already from last year’s lockdowns.”

There are three Phases to the Omicron Response:

At Phase One (where we are now)

Is where New Zealand is at now, doing what has successfully been done with Delta using tools from a ‘stamp it out’ approach.

  • Cases must isolate for 14 days (release by health official).
  • Contacts need to quarantine for 10 days (test days five and eight, if symptomatic, then test immediately).

At Phase Two (where Omicron is widespread in the community)

At this stage, most people who are able to will interact with MoH through digital tools.

  • Support from health and welfare services will be provided as required.
  • Cases need to isolate for 10 days (self-release after day 10 if asymptomatic for 72 hours).
  • Contacts need to quarantine for seven days (test on day five).

 At Phase Three

Public health response will be about minimising a widespread outbreak. When cases are in the tens of thousands, further changes will be made to contact tracing.

  • Cases need to isolate for 10 days (self-release after day 10 if asymptomatic for 72 hours).
  • Contacts need to quarantine for seven days (test if symptomatic).

Through the course of each stage, MoH will have a test to work regime that will apply to critical workforces, to keep them going through the outbreak.

Test to work’ approach

A critical worker is identified by their employer as a role within a critical industry as broadly defined by government that requires a person with particular skills who:

  • is required to undertake their role in person at the workplace; and
  • is in a role that must continue to be performed to either prevent an immediate risk of death or serious injury to a person or animal, or prevent serious harm (social, economic or physical) to significant numbers in the community.

This approach will mean that critical workers who are close contacts will be able to return to work early, provided they return a negative RAT every day that they are at work throughout their required isolation period or as otherwise appropriate to their work setting.

The protocol will include:

  • Daily symptom checks, and a daily negative RAT result, are required prior to commencing work.
  • Strict use of a medical mask, donned before entry to the workplace, changed as needed during the day and strictly complying with any infection prevention and control protocols at work.
  • When a mask is removed (e.g. for eating and drinking) physical distancing must be maintained – eat alone in a well-ventilated space where possible.
  • Travel alone to and from and around work or between jobs where possible.
  • Ensure good ventilation when in small spaces and masks must be worn by everyone present.
  • If symptoms develop at any stage, the worker will follow the public advice for close contacts with symptoms.

“Ministry of Transport is defining the list of critical workers for the supply chain and we will be encouraging them to take as broad a brush as possible approach as we all know that every aspect of the economy relies on our industry,” NRC said.

“Waka Kotahi have also confirmed that they will be taking a proactive approach to instances where testing stations, certifiers and other compliance pinch points are impacted.

“They have also indicated that they are open to work with industry on options to keep freight moving.”