Omicron update #4 - Providing needed clarity
4 February 2022
Different Government organisations have circulated a large amount of information on how to manage Omicron in recent weeks – some of which doesn’t align so is causing confusion.
HortNZ and product groups have been working together to review the information and put together the following advice to try and give growers and packhouse operators a level of clarity.
Please note that advice from the Government is constantly evolving and can change at short notice. Keep yourself regularly informed through the Covid19.govt.nz website and through HortNZ’s Covid pages for the most up to date advice for growers. We will continue to use this newsletter to update our sector as well.
Please note that what follows – including the flow charts – is an analysis and interpretation done in good faith of what is sometimes differing advice. Individual District Health Boards (DHBs) may interpret the Government’s advice differently. Therefore, we recommend speaking with your local DHB for endorsement of individual protocols and plans.
Over the past months, growers and packhouses have developed their own protocols and procedures to keep workers safe while they continue to operate.
You should continue to implement good workplace protocols and procedures around bubbles, distancing, shields, mask wearing and record keeping, to keep workers safe and minimise disruption should a worker test positive for Omicron or any other variant of Covid-19.
Experience to date shows that DHBs look for good workplace practice and evidence of that practice through good record keeping.
Close contact definition and options to minimise, especially with masks
The loss of workers as close contacts is of critical concern to our sector. The advice that follows provides guidance on how to minimise the exponential effect of close contacts from a positive case.
The use and type of mask appears relevant to the definition of a close contact. The Government has mandated the use of P2/N95 masks for health and border workers in high-risk environments.
If you can source P2/N95 masks, we recommend that you use them in indoor working environments. P2/N95 masks offer a high level of protection, more so than medical masks, reducing the wearer’s risk and or level of exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
This flow chart is also very useful.
However, we recommend that workers either always maintain a 1.5m distance or if that is not possible, wear a P2/N95 mask.
But, for some organisations and parts of our sector, the distance apart requirement is 1m before a mask is needed.
Critical workers – the registration process
There has been limited information from the Government on the critical worker definition or registration process. The registration system was to go live on Friday 4 February. However, we have been told this has now changed but we have no information about when the system will go live.
We will notify you as soon as we are aware of the system being activated.
In the meantime, we suggest you go here and complete the How do I know if my workers are critical? test as at the end of the test, you can sign up to be notified of when the registration system goes live via the business.govt.nz newsletter.
Rapid antigen tests (RATs)
Essentially New Zealand does not have sufficient supplies of RATs. That’s what’s behind Government’s initiative to register critical businesses, to enable the Government to allocate and distribute tests to the most critical areas.
There are organisations that are importing RATs to New Zealand and selling these at cost to companies. If you would like a contact for these, please email email@example.com and we will do our best to assist you in finding a source.
Many of you have asked if you should be sourcing your own RATs supply. They are not inexpensive so if you are going to purchase some, that would be a business decision.
Many of you are asking because they are free in other countries, surely if I am registered as a critical business, I will be supplied tests from the Government for free. That is currently our understanding – the Government will supply RATs at no cost, as per the Prime Minister’s announcements.
But we just cannot predict when the Government’s supply of RATs will reach the required levels for everyone to have adequate access.
If you do decide to invest in a supply, we advise you to take time to understand the best way to utilise them from a cost/benefit viewpoint because again, there are various instructions on how RATs should be used versus how they could be used.
The coming weeks
The horticulture industry has repeatedly shown that it can operate successfully as an essential industry while supplying New Zealanders with fresh fruit and vegetables - even during prolonged lockdowns.
More clarity will be provided to growers, packhouse operators and the rest of the sector as soon as that information comes to hand. Keep checking the HortNZ website, product groups’ websites and newsletters, and your inbox for these HortNZ newsletters.
Common sense and pragmatism will be needed in order for our industry to continue providing New Zealanders with fresh produce over the coming weeks and as the export fruit harvest gets fully underway.