The Government is taking action to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and early childhood services.
The country will remain at the Orange traffic light setting, with cases and hospitalisations remaining much lower than the peaks experienced earlier in the year. But with hospitals under pressure from flu and COVID-19, and numbers starting to creep up again, a suite of additional measures are being put in place to help reduce the spread.
- New Zealand to remain at Orange as case numbers start to creep up.
- 50 child-size masks made available to every Year 4 to 7 student in New Zealand.
- 20,000 to 30,000 masks provided a week to all other students and school staff.
- Extra funding to schools and early childhood services to support better ventilation over the winter months.
- Free flu vaccine made available to all children aged 3 to 12 years old.
- Reinfection advice amended. Anyone who experiences symptoms 29 days or longer after a previous infection should get a test and will need to isolate if they test positive.
The recent rise in cases
Moving back to Red is unnecessary at the moment. We can continue to manage the virus at Orange, but are putting in place a range of additional measures to help manage a recent rise in cases.
Yesterday the 7-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases was 5,808 and there were 395 people in hospital and 8 in ICU. For comparison when we moved out of Red in April the rolling average of cases was nearly 10,000 a day and there were over 500 people in hospital including 28 in ICU.
However, cases are ticking up and our health system is under pressure so we are putting in place a range of additional measures to help manage the virus over the coming winter months.
New measures in place to reduce the spread
The first thing we have already announced is the extension of the free flu vaccine to all children aged 3 to 12 and the provision of a second COVID-19 booster for everyone over the age of 50.
Getting vaccinated is the number one thing New Zealanders can do to help relieve pressure on our health system this winter. We are seeing an overrepresentation of unvaccinated people in hospital admissions so we strongly urge everyone to make sure they are up to date with their vaccines.
We are also updating our advice around reinfection and are now asking anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms 29 days or longer following their initial infection to test. Should they test positive they will need to isolate for 7 days.
This is a change from earlier advice which was that people would not need to re-test if they had tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days and is based on the latest international evidence and the need to isolate quickly people with reinfections.
However Household Contacts who have had COVID-19 within 90 days will not need to isolate, unless they are symptomatic. There is clear updated advice on what they should do to reduce risks to themselves and others.
While reinfections are low at the moment they are likely to increase. The B.5 variant of Omicron is predicted to become the dominant strain in the country in the coming weeks and is a different variant to what most New Zealanders caught the first time around.
With these measures, alongside additional support in schools and early childhood services, the Government is stepping up our response to help reduce the spread of COVID. We always said this was going to be a challenging winter and we need everyone to play their part to help us get through safely.
Help for schools
The Government is also providing a range of measures to help schools reduce the risk of winter illness spreading.
The Ministry of Education has already secured a supply of 10 million special child-sized masks and intends to have them ready for distribution at the start of Term 3.
This means there will be 50 child-size masks provided for every child in Years 4 to 7 in schools and kura throughout the country from now until the end of 2022.
This is in addition to the adult-sized mask offered to all school children from Year 8 and up. Around 20,000 to 30,000 masks are already being distributed to students and staff every week across the country.
The Government will also be providing additional funding this winter to encourage schools and centre-based early childhood services to maintain healthy levels of heating and ventilation to help reduce colds, flu and COVID from spreading.
Good ventilation over winter can lead to some heat loss and higher heating bills. The winter energy payments will help reassure schools and services that they can balance heating and ventilation, without unaffordable energy bills.
The Government does not usually explicitly fund energy costs for services, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique situation. The scientific evidence is clear that good ventilation helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition, the Government has already provided every school in New Zealand with CO2 monitors to help them identify spaces where maintaining good ventilation is proving more challenging and bought more than 8,000 air cleaners to help improve the ventilation in these areas. Every school has access to more air cleaners at no cost if they need them to help supplement their approach to ventilation this winter.