Phase Two of the Omicron Outbreak: Guidance for employers

16 Feb 22

On 15 February 2022 at 11:59pm, New Zealand will move into Phase Two of the government’s Omicron response plan. Read on for an update on how this may affect your workers.

Rapid Antigen Testing

Businesses are encouraged to begin using Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) as a form of surveillance testing in the workplace. See our article here for more information on how to source RATS, and how to put together a workplace policy for using them.

Note that at Phase Three, RATs will be relied on for diagnosing COVID-19 and not just surveillance testing. Therefore, regardless of the type of business you operate, we recommend you became acquainted with how RATs can be used, as they are likely to become commonplace in the workplace.

Rapid Antigen Testing and Close Contacts

A key aspect of Phases Two and Three is ensuring our critical workforces can continue to operate in the face of rising case numbers. The following are three close contact worker exemptions that apply at Phases Two and Three, all of which involve mandatory or discretionary rapid antigen testing.

Close Contact Exemption Scheme

The Close Contact Exemption Scheme (CCES) is a framework designed for businesses that fall outside of the critical health and disability sector, but that are still essential services (e.g., supermarkets, pharmacies, and principal accommodation).

Under CCES, workers identified as close contacts can continue to work if they are vaccinated, asymptomatic, and return a negative RAT prior to each day/shift of their isolation period.

To determine whether your business is eligible for CCES, a self-assessment tool is available on MBIE’s website. Business who are eligible may then register as a “critical service” (again on the MBIE website) and may operate in accordance with the scheme. Once a business is registered as a critical service, workers at that business will be able to collect free RAT kits from a local collection site listed on the Healthpoint website.

“Bubble of one” for non-public facing roles

At Phases Two and Three, any business may allow a close contact worker to return to work if they can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ while at work, and if their role is not public facing. They must be vaccinated and asymptomatic, but are not required to use RATs for each day/shift they work during their isolation period.

Further restrictions apply, including wearing a medical grade face-covering at all times, using a dedicated bathroom, and travelling alone to, from and around work.

“Test to return” for critical health and disability workers

Phase Two also sees the introduction of the “test to return” framework. Under this particular framework, “critical workers” providing “critical health and disability services” that are identified as close contacts can continue to work if they are vaccinated, asymptomatic, and return a negative RAT for each day/shift of their isolation period.

“Critical workers” are workers performing roles which:

  1. must be performed in person at the workplace;
  2. require a person with particular skills; and
  3. must continue to be performed to either:
    1. prevent an immediate risk of death or serious injury to a person or animal; or
    2. prevent a serious harm (social, economic or physical) to significant numbers in the community.

“Critical health services” are health services which meet one or more of the following give criteria:

  1. A health and disability service that provides direct, hands-on care and support that maintains a person’s necessities of life.
  2. A health and disability service that ensures the safety of the critical workforce.
  3. Disability Support Services, and Aged Care services, including Home and Community Support Services, that support high-risk and vulnerable client groups.
  4. Crisis support for people who feel unwell or unsafe (e.g., funded helplines, refuges and family violence services, or sexual violence crisis services).
  5. A health and disability service that enables the delivery of equitable care to those people most at risk of harm.

A list of health and disability services already considered “critical” is available on the Ministry of Health website. Additional health and disability services may be added to the list if they contact the Ministry of Health for an assessment.

Isolation and quarantine

Phase Two brings shortened isolation periods for cases and close contacts.

Cases are required to isolate for 10 days following receipt of a positive PCR test.

Close contacts (except CCES, bubble of one and critical workers) are required to isolate for 7 days following the date of the contacts’ last exposure. A PCR test must be completed on day 5 of the contacts’ isolation period.

Although isolation periods are shortened under Phases Two and Three, workers identified as close contacts who then go on to contract COVID will be required to isolate for up to 17 days. We suggest businesses implement contingency plans to account for staff absence for this period of time where working from home is not possible.

Case investigation and contact tracing

To keep on top of case investigation and contact tracing at Phase Two, digital notification and communication will be used, with phone interviews taking place only where necessary.

Cases will be notified of their positive PCR result via text. They will then be directed to a self-investigation tool to collect further details for contact tracing. A phone based interview will take place if required.

Close contacts will also be notified via text. Identification of close contacts will take placing using the COVID Tracer and Ripple apps, though we have seen delayed periods of notification of close contacts using this method. We suggest that businesses encourage their staff to check the locations of interest online regularly where possible.


Want to know more?

If you have any questions about the Omicron response as it affects your workers, please contact our specialist Employment Team.

PDF version: here.