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The Government has decided to keep the mandatory seven-day isolation requirement for positive COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told AM earlier on Tuesday the Government would decide at Cabinet whether or not to ditch mandatory isolation.
In an update on Tuesday afternoon, Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said being up to date with vaccinations, staying home if unwell, and wearing masks in healthcare settings remains key to minimising the impact of COVID-19 and reducing pressure on our health system over winter.
However, she said Cabinet has asked for more work to be done on whether testing to return to work earlier than the seven days for people who are not symptomatic or are mild cases could be a safe and effective model to reduce the impact on workforce this winter.
“We know isolation for COVID-19 cases is the best way to break the chain of transmission to make sure people aren’t passing on the virus and getting other people sick,” Dr Verrall said in a statement.
“Isolation remains effective in managing spread and keeping case numbers down, and it also helps reduce pressure on our hospital services.
“But we need to make sure our settings are right, and look at examples of what is working around the world. A test to return to work rule for lower risk or mild or asymptomatic cases could help reduce the strain on some workforces this winter.”
Dr Verrall added Cabinet will consider advice on this within the next two months.
Hipkins said the decision whether to keep this isolation rule is a “difficult balancing act”.
“At the moment, the isolation period serves not just to relieve pressure on the health system and result in fewer people being infected, but actually there is a labour market incentive for this as well,” he said during his post-Cabinet press conference on Tuesday.
“People with COVID-19 going to work potentially infect more people, and more people end up being off work sick as well.”
Some sectors are more impacted by these measures than others, he said, particularly those in education.
“If we look at some of the biggest pressure we faced in the education system last year, that resulted in a number of teachers getting COVID-19, being off work. Some schools were then not able to offer their full range of classes. Kids were then rostered home and then parents having to stay home to look after them,” Hipkins said.
“We have to weigh up all those factors in making these decisions.”
To keep others safe, Dr Verrall said it remains important to wear face masks in healthcare settings. This rule will remain for now.
She also urged people eligible for the new COVID-19 bivalent vaccine to get themselves vaccinated and boosted when eligible. Information on eligibility for this is available here.
Additionally, Cabinet agreed on Tuesday to remove the legal framework around the Point of Care Tests Order, which regulates the importation, manufacture, sale, and use of tests such as rapid antigen tests (RATs).
This Order was originally enacted under the elimination strategy when there was no access to approved self-tests and is no longer necessary, Dr Verrall said in the statement.