The country moves into phase two of the red setting on Tuesday night as community cases steadily rise. It’s hoped some of the new measures will discourage Kiwis from entering self-imposed lockdowns, political editor Jo Moir reports.

Analysis: Who will be required to self-isolate and for how long has been made clearer by the Director-General of Health at a time when people are increasingly staying at home to avoid being caught up in a location of interest and the restrictions that entails.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield told Newsroom on Monday there were two reasons fewer people were out and about, which was subsequently impacting local business, particularly the hospitality sector.

He said there were those who chose to stay home because they genuinely don’t want to get Covid and are protecting themselves, but others who don’t want to risk being at a location of interest and then be required to isolate for extended periods of time.

With the country moving to phase two of the red setting, Bloomfield said the requirements around who has to self-isolate will change as contact tracing large numbers of people becomes more difficult and Omicron spreads more widely.

He told Newsroom identifying contacts will be focused on places like aged residential care and corrections facilities and high-risk locations that may end up being super-spreader events because of the number of people in a small space.

That means anyone who visits a café, for example, where a positive case is identified won’t be subject to isolation rules, unless they were in the same party at the same table as the positive case.

Health officials will rely on positive cases alerting them to who their close contacts are in those sorts of situations. And those who test positive will be notified by text.

Bloomfield said the change was part of the shift to the “managing it phase’’ and would give people more certainty, along with the increasing use of rapid antigen testing in phases two and three.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newsroom many overseas jurisdictions had seen people tend to stay at home despite there being no public health measures in place, but over time their behaviour changed.

She said people’s behaviour wasn’t necessarily connected to the number of community cases and “we’re yet to see if that will play out here’’.

As a result, industry groups like hospitality are particularly hurting as more people choose to work from home and leave the house for fewer reasons.

“The minister of finance is keeping under constant review the impacts the Covid Protection Framework is having on sectors.’’

Ardern told Newsroom “highly targeted, one-off and short-term measures’’ are being considered for those sectors affected by this behaviour and Grant Robertson is expected to have announcements on that soon.

That means anyone who visits a café, for example, where a positive case is identified won’t be subject to isolation rules, unless they were in the same party at the same table as the positive case.

Rapid Antigen Tests will become increasingly important as businesses face staff shortages with Covid spreading through the community, and people look for certainty to re-enter the world.

For now, there are just 7.5 million tests in the country, with orders arriving each week through until the end of the month when supplies are expected to hit 22.5 million.

Bloomfield said the shift to using RATs requires both confidence in supply and fitting the broader response depending on where New Zealand is at in its outbreak.

“Even though we’re moving to phase two, outside of Auckland there is still low case numbers, so we’re still concentrating on rapid antigen testing through the close contact exemption scheme, rather than the public more broadly,’’ he said.

The response appears to be dictated by supply more than the broader response.

New Zealand is in a competitive battle with every other country globally for RATs and has been unable to secure large quantities ahead of the outbreak.

That has put the emphasis on limiting RATs to the close contact exemption scheme, rather than making them publicly available at pharmacies and supermarkets.

Isolating this side of the border

Self-isolation requirements for vaccinated Kiwis due to travel back from Australia at the end of the month, without needing to go through managed isolation, have also been ironed out by Cabinet.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins will set out the plans on Tuesday for arrivals from Australia, which will include new requirements at the border and a testing regime for the seven days they’ll need to isolate.

Initially when the border announcement was made, they were expected to isolate for 10 days, but that has decreased in line with the changes for close contacts at phase two of the red setting.

It’s understood there will be requirements around not using parts of the house they’re isolating in at the same time as other members of the household, but those who usually live there will be able to freely come and go during the seven days.

Hipkins had earlier confirmed that while private travel from the airport is preferred where possible, if those flying in from Australia, and eventually the rest of the world, need to use other flights or public transport they’ll be able to do so.

All these requirements are in keeping with the phased approach Ardern has repeatedly said is necessary to protect any overwhelming of the country’s health system.

But in coming months, providing the health system is coping, Newsroom understands it’s unlikely self-isolation will be required at all for negative-tested vaccinated Kiwis travelling home from abroad.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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