Primary Care has a very important role in providing community-based care to the community during this Omicron outbreak. Here is some simple advice to help ease the pressure on them and enable GP teams to focus on providing the right care to the right people.
This information is intended for employers and could reduce the load on General Practice, avoid creating stress among employees and enable employers to have their staff available to work as much as possible, safely.
The dominant strain of COVID-19 in New Zealand is Omicron. Delta is very rare/ virtually non-existent at the moment. For most people who are fully vaccinated and don’t have underlying health conditions (respiratory or heart disease for example) who do get Omicron will generally have mild symptoms and recover well at home.
Symptoms can include one or more of the following: a new or worsening cough, sneezing and runny nose, a fever, temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste, a sore throat, or shortness of breath.
There are less-common symptoms, but the ones above are the main ones to look out for.
RAT kits have now replaced PCR testing as the principle testing tool. While they aren’t quite as accurate (80 percent, depending on the user), they are almost instant.
A negative result can also provide a high degree of confidence that it is safe for an employee to return to work - providing the standard public health measures are used – masking in indoor working environments, distancing and good hand hygiene.
The Ministry of Health wants us all to record test results, including RATs, on our My COVID Record. It is an important part of being able to track the course of the outbreak accurately – which in turn may drive changes in rules or an easing of restrictions. As well as My COVID Record there is an 0800 number to phone them in, for those that are unable to access their My COVID Record or who don’t have one.
Almost as important, entering a positive result online will connect you with the supports you or your whānau might need while isolating – including how to obtain essential supplies for example.
Among people who have been exposed and may be infected, there are four categories: casual contacts, close contacts, close household contacts and people with symptoms. Only two of these need to test and potentially to isolate – close household contacts, and people with symptoms.
Close contacts (who have had contact with a person they don’t live with who has/had COVID-19) or casual contacts don’t need to self-isolate but do need to watch for symptoms. If they become symptomatic, they should do a RAT and carry on as normal or take action depending on the result.
Household contacts also have to self-isolate for 7 days – unless they are exempt under the Critical Workers’ Exemption Scheme. Providing they RAT test negative and they have no new symptoms on day 7, they can return to work with the usual public health measures.
Here is a link to a really handy way of deciding what type of contact someone is: What type of contact are you?
There is no need for people that test positive for COVID-19 or who have been identified as a close household contact (ie live with someone who has COVID-19) to get a medical certificate.
They may be asked by their employer to show the text that identified them as a household contact or for a screencap of their positive test – but that would be for the employer to request according to their own protocols - it is not a legal requirement.
Neither a medical certificate or a negative test is needed to show a new employee doesn’t have COVID-19 – unless it is the employer’s own policy, in which case they should provide a RAT.
There is also no need for a medical certificate to show that a person is ready to return to work. However, employees who have reason to use a RAT do need to keep their employer informed and record their results on their My COVID Record.
The Ministry of Health has defined Critical workers, but in simple terms, these are people needed to keep essential services going. Because they are critical, these workers need to be enabled to work where they can do so safely, and so different rules apply to when they should isolate or continue to work supported by testing and the usual public health measures
Under the Critical Workers' Exemption Scheme, critical workers who are close household contacts of a case or have mild symptoms can return to work, providing they test negative (using a RAT) before they arrive for each shift.
Non-critical workers have to self-isolate for 7 days if they are either a household contact, test positive or have been instructed to isolate by a public health official. This means staying completely at home – no trips to the supermarket etc. during their isolation period. If they test negative on day 7 from their first exposure or positive test, they can safely return to work.
Page last updated: 16 March 2022
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