A Dunedin doctor says the government has repeatedly failed to deliver the tools frontline health workers need to do their jobs.
Daniel Pettigrew told RNZ that his practice has been waiting a week to get supplies of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) and does not know when they will arrive.
In the meantime, he has had to tell patients to go elsewhere.
The delays were just the latest in a string of logistical hiccups throughout the pandemic, Pettigrew said.
"Through the pandemic we've had issues with PPE, we've had issues with vaccinations, whether they're Covid vaccinations or that first year we had issues with flu vaccine rollout and a lot of it was just logistics of getting these items into the hands of general practices."
Pettigrew acknowledged Omicron had spread through the country earlier than expected, but said it was frustrating being unable to fully look after his patients.
Health services have reported high demand from people wanting the tests, and the Ministry of Health dispatched 5.2 million RATs in the last week.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Morning Report supply of RATs depended on how heavy the demand was in each region.
"The systems are bedding in now, so they're getting people through those pick-up points quicker so I think you'll see the system operating more efficiently."
People should not be taking a RAT just for the sake of it but when they had a reason, such as symptoms or if they were a close contact, he said.
College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said the demand was not unexpected because the latest variant was spreading rapidly throughout the country.
General practices, Covid-19 testing stations, and pharmacies were being flooded with calls, he said.
However, there had been delays delivering the tests to health services.
"The supply chain for getting the rapid antigen tests out to general practice, pharmacies and, later in the week, supermarkets, is really just getting up and running.
"There's a bit of a lag getting all the RAT tests out to appropriate points of access."
However, the government had promised there were enough tests in the country, he said.
He expected the supply problems would be resolved by next week.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says yesterday's almost 20,000 positive Covid cases in the community may not necessarily show a jump in actual infections.
It was more likely showing the backlog of PCR results because of huge delays, he told TV1's Breakfast.
Plank didn't think the country had yet reached the peak in terms of case numbers.
"I don't think we're there yet. I think we're probably still a week or two away from a peak."
However, Auckland is ahead of the curve, he said, and it was possible we could see cases peak earlier there than in other parts of the country.
The peak would likely last a week or two at high numbers before falling.
"It won't just completely come down to zero. It will settle out at a lower level I think as we go through the rest of the year. But in terms of the peak, it [will be] relatively sharp and short-lived."
Plank said hospitalisations was the number to monitor now.
He said the number of Covid patients in hospital had been doubling over the last few days and in three weeks' time, we could see up to 1000 people in hospital.
Plank said there does, however, appear to be something of a decline in hospitalisations - a trend he hoped to see continue.
At the moment younger people were getting Covid-19 first, Plank told RNZ.
"If we do see start to see infection moving into those older age groups that would be the thing that could potentially push those hospital cases up."
Vaccinations and wearing masks could help keep the number of hospitalisations down, as could avoiding visiting elderly relatives and rest homes, he said.
He said there was no doubt that New Zealand's infections were high and case numbers were hard to determine with the switch to Rapid Antigen Tests.
Meanwhile, Countdown supermarket says its supply chain is being impacted by team members testing positive with Covid or having to isolate with whānau.
Its Auckland stores and distribution centre had been hit the hardest, but also with supply partners such as the meat processing plants, abattoirs and chicken suppliers.
Countdown general manager of corporate affairs, quality, safety, and sustainability Kiri Hannifin told RNZ "product's fine, there's lots of food around, it's just a little difficult getting it in and out of our sheds and into our stores".
Countdown had cleared most of its capacity for online delivery to keep it free for those people who had to isolate and couldn't get out.
Hannifin said people would be able to get a delivery slot, but it just may not be their preferred time or they may have to wait a day.
Shoppers who could go into the store or do click and collect were being asked to so they could keep it free from those who couldn't.
It would probably get a little bit worse, especially in Wellington and Christchurch which were holding up pretty well at the moment, she said.
Today workers in its Auckland support office were going into the distribution centre to help. "Every day changes. We can't quite predict what's going to happen."
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins this morning said he had a ring-side view of the protest action from his office and there were a lot of police there.
They obviously had a tough day ahead and he wished them all the best, he said.
On mandates, police had given feedback that they felt the mandate had served its purpose and didn't feel they needed another one.
It was more complicated for the New Zealand Defence Force because when they deployed internationally - especially the Pacific - they often required people to be vaccinated first, he said.
However, the ultimate advice was once New Zealand got over this current peak, it could look at changing all its restrictions including lifting mandates.
He said when mandates were lifted depended on each sector and would likely remain in the health sector for some time. Whereas mandates could be removed in other sectors sooner.
One of the challenges was they didn't know when Omicron would peak and how long it would last for.
The modelling dates for when it would peak were "guesses as much as anything" and the range was anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
Hipkins also apologised for misleading the public in terms of testing capacity which had led people to wait for tests that were never checked.
He told Newshub's AM that people would get their results and it was often well delayed beyond what they would expect.
"The targets are not being met there," he said.
"It's clear the capacity we were told was there in terms of the daily processing for unpooled samples - and there's a different between pooled samples and unpooled samples - wasn't as high as we were told it was."
He said the advice around testing capacity was "pretty rigorously tested" and an independent advisory group had been looking at it too.
"It's clear the answers to those questions didn't turn out to be accurate enough."
Meanwhile, National leader Christopher Luxon says the Ministry of Health misleading the public on its testing capacity was a "shambles".
Luxon told Newshub's AM Show that he did not think firing Dr Ashley Bloomfield in the middle of an Omicorn surge was the right thing to do.
"We need maximum testing as we are seeing, and again the system is overwhelmed and it's not a surprise for those of us who have been watching it and expecting it to happen."
National had been warning the system could be overwhelmed for a long time and that's why it had been calling for Rapid Antigen Tests and saliva testing, he said.
There are fears rapid antigen tests (RATS) could become "the new toilet paper" as rising Covid-19 infections spark massive demand for the at-home testing kits.
Retail NZ is urging people not to panic-buy when the kits become widely available for sale next week from supermarkets and other retail stores.
But a pharmacy owner says she is already seeing "desperation" from shoppers, with the kits flying off the shelves at a number of Auckland pharmacies this week as Omicron infections spike.
Almost 3000 RATS were sold to the public from one Auckland pharmacy on Monday, and another 3000 across four other city outlets owned by the same pharmacist.
"Oh my God, it's just crazy," Clair Connor said of demand at her four Unichem pharmacies in Meadowlands, Hunter's Plaza, Beachlands and Albany Megacentre, and one Life Pharmacy at Botany.
"On Sunday … Life Pharmacy Botany did $20,000 in [RATS] sales. But in the Albany store on Monday we did $28,000 [RATS sales] in one day.
"When I got there, two people were having an argument about their place in the queue. I had to tell them, 'let's just be orderly, there's going to be stock for everyone in the queue'."
"[There's] desperation from the public."
The run on RATS sparked a warning from Retail NZ, which represents two-thirds of Kiwi retailers.
"Don't panic-buy. Buy them when you need them," public affairs and policy advice manager Aimie Hines said.
"Let's not make this the new toilet paper".
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the nation faced a tough few weeks ahead as Omicron surges, but rapid testing kits were helping ease some pressure.
Nearly 20,000 new Covid-19 cases were recorded yesterday, when 373 people were in hospital, nine in intensive care, and there were almost 100,000 active cases nationwide.
"Covid-19 is a very different foe to what it was in the beginning of the pandemic," Bloomfield said, citing the current high vaccination rate.
"For most people, Covid-19 will be a mild to moderate illness that can be managed quite safely at home," the director general of health added at a press conference.
Bloomfield conceded polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing capacity was not keeping up with demand last week.
The processing of 32,000 testing samples had been delayed and Bloomfield apologised for that.
"Our labs are committed to processing all those tests," he said.
About 9000 tests were sent to Queensland over the weekend to help clear the backlog.
But using rapid antigen tests had eased pressure on testing capacity in recent days, Bloomfield said.
He said more than five million rapid test kits had been distributed, and 12 million were held centrally.
"The challenge is distribution, with some of the logistics networks' staff being affected by the outbreak."
Bloomfield said the average length of stay in Auckland hospitals is 2.2 days, half what it was during the Delta outbreak.
People mostly weren't needing respiratory support, he added.
Hospitals around the country were at 80 per cent occupancy, while intensive care units were at 57 per cent.
Middlemore Hospital staffing levels were down 15 to 20 per cent, due to people either having Covid-19 or looking after others who'd tested positive.
"They've got plans in place to move staff around," Bloomfield said of the big South Auckland hospital.
"The wind-back of planned care will be temporary while they need to focus on people who are acutely unwell."
Bloomfield said most people with Omicron could be looked after at home and he asked people to keep wearing face masks, practice physical distancing, and stay home if unwell.
"The next few weeks are going to be tough."
Asked about the breakdown of Delta and Omicron cases in hospital, he said there was a lag in whole-genome sequencing of those in hospital but data was on the way.
He said symptoms were similar for both variants. A cough, scratchy throat, runny nose and body aches were typical.
Those symptoms applied to people whether boosted or not, but those with booster shots would generally not experience such severe symptoms, Bloomfield said.
In children, "gastro-tummy" symptoms were common. But loss of smell or taste didn't seem to be a symptom of Omicron.
Bloomfield said the usefulness of the two-dose vaccine pass after the Omicron outbreak would be reviewed, as would the traffic light system and vaccine mandates in general.
Protest activity at Parliament had "not much" influence on the ministry's advice on those issues, he said.
Meanwhile, the 10-day isolation period for cases and household contacts was being reviewed too, and depending on health advice, could drop to seven days.
Bloomfield said it was irresponsible for some protest groups to tell people to shun public health advice.
"Masks are incredibly important. Please keep using them to protect yourself and others."
He called those in the Wellington anti-mandate occupation an "incredibly small minority", given that 97 per cent of eligible people had at least one dose.
A deadline passed at noon yesterday for anti-mandate protesters to leave Auckland Domain but their campsite remained.
The small group set up a makeshift campsite behind the Wintergardens and were given until midday by the council to pack up.
A protester who declined to be named told the Herald they were inspired by the occupation on Parliament grounds.
In Wellington, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was important for everybody to be able to access rapid tests.
"There has been a period when people waited too long for their PCR tests to be processed, that has been acknowledged."
Ministers have now approved Novavax for use, with the first shipments expected later this month, Bloomfield said.
Fewer than 10,000 had taken up AstraZeneca so far, and he described Novavax as a good vaccine.
However, good evidence supported maintaining a largely Pfizer-based vaccine programme, he said.
The first payments from the new Covid Support Payment went out yesterday.
More than 29,851 applications were made, and from 1pm yesterday the first businesses received payments - a total of $117.5 million to 24,044 businesses.
The payment allowed eligible businesses to get $4000 per business plus $400 per full-time employee, capped at 50 FTEs or $24,000.
It will be available on a fortnightly basis for six weeks, meaning three payments in total, each of which must be applied for separately.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this reflected international experiences suggesting the Omicron outbreak should greatly subside after about six weeks.