Northland community leaders are concerned rural areas with poor core infrastructure will struggle to access rapid antigen tests and text notifications for cases and close contacts if Omicron enters the region.
The Government on Wednesday released its three-phased approach on how it intends to tackle the Omicron variant spreading through the community, including reducing the isolation period for cases and close contacts at phase two and three to 10 and seven days.
There will be increased use of rapid antigen tests with a test to return policy for health and critical workforces and greater use of technology, including text notifications for cases and close contacts and automated contact identification.
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said about 97 per cent of Kiwis lived "within 20 minutes" of a pharmacy.
But that's not the reality in Northland, Ngātiwai Trust Board chief executive Huhana Lyndon says.
"We're a rural-based iwi one to an hour and a half away from town and we want to know how services under the Omicron plan will go to our people, in the same way as we've had access to Covid vaccination.
"Our people out there need surety the Government will be able to support isolated communities such as Ngātiwai with a lack of core infrastructure."
As an example, she said if there was an outbreak of Omicron in an area like Whangaruru which was an hour out of town, there would be significant challenges to overcome.
"That's just one small cluster so if Omicron comes in waves, those rural communities will need significant help. What is needed is an ongoing programme of action to improve basic necessities like internet coverage, housing, and the like," Lyndon said.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said it may take the public a while to understand the new approach due to its complexity.
However, "the move from phase one to phase two is a way off. That will give us time to understand and get to grips with the number of days we have to isolate and all the additional changes", Mai said.
While the mayor didn't express concern in regard to rapid antigen test supply, she said isolated communities – especially coastal and rural areas – might face difficulties accessing the tests.
Mai said as part of dealing with a new variant, everyone had to increase their efforts.
"I've been impressed today with the number of people with their mask on. We have to be vigilant and keep practising good hygiene at all times."
NorthChamber chief executive Stephen Smith said rapid antigen tests were a handy tool for businesses because it would help determine which workers would stay put and who needed to self isolate in case of a positive Covid case on premises.
"It speeds things up rather than waiting for days for results to come in so the Government is on the right track, at least theoretically, and that keeps the wheels turning and it can soften the impact of the virus," he said.
Verrall said that as case numbers grew, both testing and isolation approaches would change in response.
Case numbers were likely to grow rapidly, she said.
A 10-case outbreak could reach 1000 cases in six to 12 days, she said.
There were 23 new community cases of Covid-19 yesterday of which 15 were Omicron.
Six people were in hospital with the virus.
Phase one under the Omicron plan is what Kiwis were already doing with Delta – contact tracing, isolation, and request that everyone who is symptomatic be tested at a community testing station or at a primary health provider.
People will be told to isolate for 14 days if testing positive, and for 10 days if they are a contact.
The second stage will involve identifying people most at risk of getting severely ill and isolation terms will reduce to 10 days for cases and to seven days for contacts, in line with what the Government believes is the best practice overseas.
Household contacts will actively be managed by contact tracing services, with close contacts requiring a PCR test on day five.
Phase three is for when cases are in their thousands.
Further changes will be made to the contract tracing system when New Zealand reaches this point.
The Healthline phone service would still be important, she said.
Verrall said protecting food distribution networks and utilities was critical, and the
Government was working to identify other priority sectors.
Strict protocols including face mask use, ventilation and physical distancing would be activated around returning to work, Verrall said.