Third Omicron case discovered in New Zealand

The New Zealand Ministry of Health revealed on Tuesday that a third border-related case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant had been detected inside the country.

Medical staff are testing buyers who have volunteered at a pop-up community COVID-19 testing station in a supermarket parking lot in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo / Mark Baker)

The infected person, who was transferred to a managed isolation and quarantine facility, is a family contact of an Air New Zealand crew member who tested positive with the highly transmissible variant last week. The contact is fully vaccinated and was isolated during their symptomatic period. A second family contact, which is also isolated, continues to be negative.

The Air NZ crew member arrived on a flight to Auckland from Sydney on December 24, along with three other Omicron cases. The crew member tested positive on December 27 and was transferred to an isolation center.

More than 90 travelers carrying Omicron have so far been intercepted at the border, where it is now the most common variant. The first case to enter the country was a disc jockey named Robert Etheridge, who arrived from the UK before Christmas and received a positive test result two days after spending the required seven days at MIQ and three days in ” self-isolation ”near Auckland.

Etheridge, who was on his third border exemption since the start of the COVID pandemic, did not wait for his final test result before heading to restaurants, a bar and a nightclub, exhibiting up to 100 close contacts to the Omicron variant.

All of the man’s close contacts returned negative tests. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins called Etheridge’s actions “disappointing”, but authorities declined to prosecute on grounds that legal action could harm future COVID carriers -19 by cooperating with the public health regulations of the country.

If the number of Omicron cases seems relatively contained for the moment, their emergence beyond the border highlights extreme dangers. The country’s delta epidemic that began last August stemmed from a single case of returnees on a flight from Sydney.

Internationally, Omicron has fueled an unprecedented rise in the number of cases since it was identified as a worrying variant in November, and health systems around the world are overwhelmed. COVID-19 infections in Australia broke national records this week, with more than 72,000 new cases reported yesterday and a national positive test rate of 31.35%, as state and federal governments allow the circulation of the highly infectious strain.

The worsening international situation underscores the recklessness of the New Zealand Labor-led government before Christmas of the last remaining public health restrictions. Auckland, the country’s largest city and the center of the Delta outbreak, has seen its three-tier “traffic light” setting lowered from red to orange. Thousands of vacationers have since spilled over into provincial areas, sowing probable epidemics elsewhere.

According to official statistics, the daily number of COVID-19 cases has declined sharply over the Christmas and New Years period. From a peak of 222 community cases on November 16, daily cases have gradually declined to 19 on January 6 with a moving average of 35 over 7 days. There are currently 1,081 active cases, 38 in hospital, 4 in intensive care with 51 deaths, including three at Christmas.

The figures underestimate the real situation. The tests practically came to a halt during the holiday period. During the last week of December, 69,217 tests were performed, compared to more than 200,000 tests per week in November. Between Christmas and January 1, less than 10,000 tests were performed daily.

After abandoning its elimination strategy last October, the Labor Green government has no plans to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said: “It is not our intention to move into containment unless absolutely necessary in the event of a generalized epidemic where our health system is subject. at considerable pressure. “

Like governments internationally, Labor is relying on vaccinations to manage the outbreak of cases while cutting back on essential public health measures. Vaccine booster doses were made available this week at walk-in clinics for about 1.2 million people who received their second dose of Pfizer four months ago. While less than 10% of eligible people have had a booster, queues have quickly formed in recent days with thousands of people seeking a booster.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said Things on January 5, that Omicron poses a “huge risk” to New Zealand. “We are very vulnerable. He would behave as if he were behaving in [the Australian states of] New South Wales and Victoria, that would sweep the population quickly, ”he said, creating an“ intense pandemic wave ”that would be very difficult to manage.

The decision to delay reopening the border with Australia until the end of February had given two months to prepare for community transmission of Omicron, Baker said. As soon as New Zealanders could make it to Australia, the Omicron variant would arrive almost immediately.

“We don’t know how long we’ll keep Omicron away. At any point there could be a failure at the border, and it could start to circulate very widely, ”Baker said.

David Welch of the University of Auckland told the Science Media Center that the government’s “assumptions” about immunity to vaccines that underpin the “traffic lights” that replaced blanket shutdowns, “do not apply. for Omicron ”. He called for massive strengthening of protective measures, including strengthening of testing and tracing systems, and for rapid antigenic testing to be widely and freely available. “COVID is an airborne disease, so we need to improve ventilation in our schools, workplaces and other indoor environments,” he added.

Despite over a thousand current Delta cases and the possibility that Omicron has already started to spread, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has adopted the same criminal strategy as capitalist governments around the world to allow COVID-19 to become endemic . The ruling elites are acting on behalf of big business, which demands that workers sacrifice their health and their lives, so that profit extraction can continue uninterrupted.

In the face of the prospect of growing popular opposition, already evident late last year among education workers in New Zealand and elsewhere, a critical role in political coverage of the Ardern government is being played by the middle pseudo-left and “liberal” which revolves around government and trade. unions.

The internal organ of these tendencies, the Daily blog, waged a relentless propaganda campaign throughout the pandemic glorifying the government’s strategy, including its increasingly deep alignment with the demands of big business. The blog supported the decision to end the Auckland lockdown, while publisher Martyn Bradbury falsely stated that “Delta will become endemic and nothing less than a perpetual lockdown will end it.” You can’t tell double-vaccinated people that they have to restrict their freedom forever. “

Reviewing 2021 last week, Bradbury admitted Labor had failed to tackle housing, poverty, inequality and other critical social issues, but Ardern could be ‘off the hook’. As “Jacinda’s neo-goodness begins to crumble,” Bradbury said, “if she protects us, see [sic] deserves a vote of gratitude again in 2023.

Amanda J. Marsh