Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: New strain surpasses Delta in daily cases; Auckland Grammar acts over Soundsplash cases, contacts

Omicron has surpassed Delta as the dominant Covid-19 strain in new daily cases, amid wildly varied modelling about the scale of a looming outbreak.

Yesterday, 34 new Omicron cases were reported out of 45 new nationwide cases, and the Omicron cluster expanded to 90.

Five people in Auckland who attended Waikato’s Soundsplash festival last weekend tested positive for Covid-19, with one confirmed as having Omicron.

Some festivalgoers were students at Auckland Grammar School, which on its first full day of classes this year sent several pupils home and advised them to get tested.

The Act party said health officials left people out of the loop, leaving the festival and school to clean up a mess.

“It was up to concerned parents to contact politicians and the media when cases were identified,” party leader David Seymour said.

“Now it’s been left up to Auckland Grammar to send at-risk students home to isolate after receiving no guidance from the Ministries of Health or Education.”

The Epsom school’s headmaster, Tim O’Connor, said sending people home was a precautionary step.

He said instead of waiting indefinitely for an official decision on whether attendees would be described as close or casual contacts, the school decided to act.

Soundsplash could turn into a super-spreader event, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said earlier.

The Ministry of Health said 68 festival attendees were identified as close contacts, but this number was expected to increase.

At a press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not directly address claims health officials were slow to let Soundsplash organisers know about potential positive cases.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reportedly projected an Omicron outbreak in New Zealand could last about three months and peak at 80,000 daily cases.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Andrew Little said he was confident the health system could cope, despite predictions daily cases could reach 5000 to 50,000.

Ardern said vast variation existed in current Omicron pandemic modelling.

Addressing media near a Lower Hutt vaccination clinic, the PM said she’d asked experts to meet, compare different models, and reach a more consistent analysis.

Another of Ardern’s messages yesterday was delivered away from the spotlight, at Waiwhetu Marae.

“We are trying our best to learn the lessons of the past,” she said.

“The next stage is going to be a tough one. But the response from everyone so far has set us apart from everyone else. And I think that’s because of our heart.”

Ardren was then shown the resting place of Te Āti Awa leader Īhāia Pōrutu Puketapu, who last century advised Labour MPs on Māori affairs.

Meanwhile, questions emerged over what tests might be needed in weeks ahead for essential transport workers such as truck drivers.

As saliva testing programmes dried up, some employers were worried about a lack of clarity on rules and testing stocks.

Some truckies have received emails saying publicly-funded saliva testing will end today.

The main reason indicated for this was the removal of the Auckland regional Covid-19 border, which was dismantled earlier this month.

“We don’t really have clarity on what the expectations are at this point,” Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said yesterday afternoon.

He said it was uncertain what if any testing rules might be enacted at later stages of the Government’s three-phased approach to battling Omicron.

Leggett told the Herald some in the transport sector were worried about financial costs.

“I had an operator in Auckland say to me if they had to fund this … It would be $10,000 a week.”

The Government has been approached for comment about the saliva tests.

National Party transport spokesman Simeon Brown said it was still important for drivers and employers to have access to rapid tests.

“Omicron is going to place the transport and logistics sector under significant strain.”

He said rapid, reliable tests were essential “to keep moving goods around the country, food on the shelves in supermarkets, and medicines in our pharmacies”.

National’s leader Chis Luxon previously said saliva testing detected Omicron faster than nasal testing, but authorities were in “a nasty spat” with a private testing company.

Seymour also voiced concern about the Government’s handling of saliva testing regimes.

“The rationale for testing at the internal border is gone, and that’s a good thing.”

But he added: “It seems they’re just cancelling most of the project and saying: If you want to pay for it, you can.”

The Government in recent days has urged people to prepare for possible stints of home isolation if the Omicron variant outbreak grows.

TradeMe yesterday emailed members advising them to shop for “wellness kit essentials” in a list that might elicit angst for some and nostalgia for others.

The online marketplace’s list extended beyond face masks and sanitiser to include monitors, exercise gear, trampolines, educational toys – and breadmakers.

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