Northland health officials have set up a Community Co-ordination Hub in Whangārei to help deal with an expected outbreak of Omicron in the region.
The experts say it's a matter of when, not if, Omicron reaches Northland, with the Covid variant spreading like wildfire round the globe.
It's now the most common Covid variant globally, and cases have been confirmed in MIQ in New Zealand, with at least one suspected case in the community.
Tracey Schiebli, Northland DHB Covid-19 Incident Controller, said national and regional planning is well advanced to prepare for a surge in cases of Covid-19.
Whangārei Hospital has eight ICU beds, but that can be increased to 10 if needed for any Omicron outbreak in the region.
NDHB modelling late last year showed there could be between 230 and 880 active cases in the community - and up to 95 cases a day - with up to 70 possibly needing hospital care.
''NDHBs key priorities are to support our population to isolate and care for themselves at home where appropriate and ensure that those who need a higher level of care can access this in a timely manner,'' Schiebli said.
''With Omicron quickly becoming the dominant variant across much of the world, we know we have a short window to get ready and plan.''
She said last month a collective interim Covid in the community support hub was set up as part of Te Tai Tokerau's Covid-19 community response. It will provide support to community-based hubs being established and be led by iwi and Māori Health providers.
The hub is a four-bedroom NDHB house on Hospital Rd, Whangārei, where teams from the DHB's Covid-19 response team, Police Northland Family Harm, Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, and primary care staff will work together to prepare for and manage further Covid-19 outbreaks in the community.
As well, Inspector Chris McLellan has been seconded to NDHB from the police to help with the community response.
"In two or three months, no matter where you live in Northland, should you become ill, you will be well supported, clinically and in a manaaki sense. We are working towards equipping people to look after themselves at home with support from their local health provider," she said
NDHB's rural hospital medicine specialist, Dr Sarah Clarke, said although the hub would include clinical expertise, it would be more about providing manaaki and support to the community to keep everyone safe.
"We have come to the end of a run, and now we are at the start of a marathon," said Dr Clarke, of the impending Covid cases.
Schiebli said planning includes a staged response as case numbers increase and supporting staff across the healthcare sector to be able to provide care for the people of Northland.
''Significant work has been done to prepare for patients being admitted to our hospitals with Covid-19. This includes capital and equipment requirements to ensure red and green zones can be safely maintained across our four hospitals.
''Workforce requirements have been established, with plans to step down services if necessary, to make sure staff can be prioritised to areas of highest need.
''Omicron will require us to revisit some of our approaches as it becomes more
widespread in the community, including amongst our own staff. Based on overseas experience, we expect that our Emergency Department will see a high number of Covid presentations, with around half potentially requiring hospital admission.''
She said the best mitigation against Northland's hospitals becoming overwhelmed is a strong community care model.
''The low vaccination rate in Northland is concerning and we are actively promoting that all eligible people in Northland be vaccinated,'' she said.
As of yesterday 86 per cent of Northland's eligible population, 77 per cent of Māori and 92 per cent of Pacific people were double vaccinated. As well 89 per cent of the eligible population, 84 per cent of Māori and 97 per cent of Pacific people have received at least one dose.
She said for many, particularly, those fully vaccinated, Omicron will be mild or asymptomatic.
''To prepare for it entering our community, we have provided information on our website and social media around how to manage and care for yourself and your whānau, should you become infected by Omicron without having to access our overloaded health services.
''We know that Omicron is less severe but much more infectious. The science is very clear that getting the Covid-19 booster decreases infection rate and severity. We encourage all those eligible to get it as soon as they can as it will most certainly help further protect you and your whānau.''
There is no need to book a booster at the four NDHB vaccination clinics in Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Whangārei and Dargaville. However, from yesterday people can book online via BookMyVaccine.nz or by calling 0800 282926. Yesterday was also the start of the vaccine rollout for 5 to 11-year-olds.
So far more than 24,000 booster doses have been administered in Northland.
For information on how to get prepared or to find details about vaccination and testing clinics near you, visit - https://www.northlanddhb.org.nz/home/covid-19/.
There were no new Covid 19 cases reported in Northland yesterday.
NDHB advice for Omicron when it hits the Northland community and for self-isolation:
Get your household prepared for Omicron
Make a plan that includes:
Essential supplies on hand so you will not need to leave your home if you become ill.
Avoid panic buying. Add a few extra items every time you shop.
Remember to renew your prescription medications.
Alternative arrangements in case you become ill or if you need to care for a sick family member.
For example, have back-up childcare in case you or your usual care provider become ill
If you care for dependents, have a back-up caregiver in place.
If you need to self-isolate away from your home have a back-up person to feed/exercise/ look after your animals.
Talk to your employer about working from home if possible.
Have your contacts ready, including; healthcare, your doctor, your pharmacy, Healthline, your support network of family, friends, neighbours, school, work.
Have household instructions ready:
Make a list of household instructions of things you usually do but cannot while isolating, such as feeding pets, paying bills, watering the plants, instructions on how to use things.
Share your plan with your family, friends and neighbours.
Set up a buddy system to check in on each other by phone, email or text during times of need.
Protect yourself and others against Covid-19:
Get vaccinated, stay home if you are sick, get tested if you have any Covid-19 symptoms even if they are mild, keep track of where you have been, wear a face mask, maintain good hand hygiene, maintain physical distancing.
Food: dried pasta and rice, pasta sauces, canned soups, vegetables and beans, pet food and supplies, food, formula and drinks for babies and small children, dried or long life milk, baking supplies.
Hygiene: Toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, nappies and wipes, facial tissue, soap, shampoo and conditioner, alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60 per cent alcohol.
Healthcare: Regular medicines, thermometer, fever-reducing medications (e.g. paracetomol/ibuprofen), throat lozenges, medical masks, household rubber gloves, tissues, heat and cool packs.
Cleaning: Paper towels, plastic bin bags, laundry detergent, regular household cleaning products, hard-surface disinfectant, or if not available, concentrated (5 per cent) liquid bleach and a separate container for dilution.
Be prepared for being at home checklist:
Puzzles, books, magazines, cards/games, podcasts, soothing music, TV/Netflix, colouring and other activities for children, radio, community and daily newspapers, batteries, outdoor activities for in your yard, house projects to keep adults who are well busy, colouring and other activities for children.