From campgrounds to concerts, officials say they are ready for any reemergence of Covid-19 over the holiday season – and the Government promises up to $21,500 new business aid if required.
In August, New Zealand found itself forced up the alert levels once again when four community cases of Covid-19, with no obvious link to the border, were found in Auckland. Our small second wave of Covid-19 was ring-fenced and eliminated much more quickly than the initial outbreak, in part because the Government had prepared a resurgence plan in the prior months.
Now, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand is ready for any further reemergence of the virus, even if it occurs over summer when many people are away from home, in places isolated locations with little connectivity and fragile supply chains. As part of the Government’s ‘Make Summer Unstoppable’ campaign, Hipkins announced a new resurgence plan on Tuesday and Finance Minister Grant Robertson said aid for businesses was ready to go if needed.
The resurgence plan offers three example scenarios to give New Zealanders an idea of how a resurgence of the virus may play out.
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In one scenario, a border worker tests positive for Covid-19. Their contacts are quickly ring-fenced and the outbreak is eliminated without any escalation of alert levels. This is similar to the instances in recent months where workers in MIQ have tested positive but infected no or few others.
“This is a standard ‘test, trace, isolate’ case,” the publicity information created by the Government states.
In a second scenario, someone at a campsite tests positive for the virus. Contact tracers determine that the person is related to a border worker and further tracing can ring-fence the outbreak. Testing capacity in the affected area could be ramped up – during surge periods, New Zealand can now process 25,000 tests a day. It is possible that the Government would introduce targeted restrictions (such as requiring masking in the affected area) or a localised alert level escalation.
In the third scenario, someone tests positive after returning from a large music festival in a different region. Here, many hundreds of people may have been exposed to the virus and a broader response is called for, the Government says. If the investigation finds no obvious link to the border, then nationwide alert level escalation is possible and New Zealanders may be asked to remain in place, in their bubble, while officials determine next steps.
“In a worst-case scenario, if it became clear there was a high risk of widespread transmission, you’d need to stay where you are and in your bubble until you get official advice. We don’t want people rushing home and possibly taking the virus with them,” Hipkins said.
Hipkins said people should think about what they would need or need to do if they had to stay at a campsite for longer than expected. This could include having contingency plans for pet- or house-sitting and bringing enough supplies. Hipkins recommended people bring soap, hand sanitiser and face masks with them on holiday.
He also called on New Zealanders to engage in the basic actions that could help limit the size of an undetected outbreak. This includes washing your hands, scanning QR codes, using Bluetooth in the NZ COVID Tracer app, staying home and getting tested if you have any symptoms (even minor ones) and wearing masks on public transport.
Robertson said the Government was prepared to support businesses in the event of an alert level escalation. A new Resurgence Support Payment would offer businesses $1,500 plus $400 per full-time equivalent employee (up to a maximum of $21,500) if alert levels rise for a week or longer and if the business experiences a 30 percent drop in revenue over a two week period.
The Wage Subsidy Scheme would also be restarted if a region – or the country – enters Level 3 or Level 4. And while Robertson ruled out revisiting commercial rent relief last week, he said Cabinet had instructed Justice Minister Kris Faafoi to “revisit options” on the subject for Cabinet to discuss early next year.
A new Short-term Absence Payment would allow one-off payments of $350 to employers when their workers need to stay home while awaiting a test result or while someone in their household is doing so.