27 January 2022

Yesterday the Government announced a three phase Omicron play that aims to slow down and limit the spread of an outbreak (read more about it on the Government COVID-19 website). For veterinary teams, the key points are that, at phases 2 and 3, the isolation periods reduce from 14 days to 10 days for positive cases and from 10 days to 7 days for close contacts.

The Government also announced a test to return-to-work policy where asymptomatic close contacts in “critical workforces” can return a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) in order to go to work.

Test to return-to-work

Little is know at this stage about how this will work because the policy and legislation is still being prepared. In their announcement, the Government said that critical workers would include “…those working in food supply…” and, MBIE have said that a critical worker includes “…someone who is in a role that must continue to be performed to either prevent an immediate risk of death or serious injury to a person or animal…”

People returning to work under this approach will only be able to go to work, not anywhere else.

Those wishing to use this approach will need to register via MBIE. The details of how this will work are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

What we do know is that “critical workers” are not the same as “essential workers” used in previous parts of the COVID-19 response and, despite good signs, we are not certain that veterinary workers will be included in the definition. VCNZ and NZVA have spoken with Government about this and are confident that MPI will do everything they can to advocate for veterinary teams being included. We will update you when we know more.

Contingency planning and preparation

We know that many clinics will be depending on the test to return-to-work approach being open to them. However, while this remains uncertain, we strongly recommend doing some contingency planning and preparation.

If someone in your workplace tests positive for COVID-19, they will have to isolate. Any close contacts will have to isolate too. Currently, the Ministry of Health defines a close contact as:

a person who has exposure to the same air as a confirmed (or probable) case during the case’s infectious period that is assessed as significant, without appropriate personal protective equipment…”

While this definition may change as the rules are updated, it suggests that there are steps that can be taken to minimise the risks of workers being classified as close contacts. These include:

  • Ensuring there is robust PPE available and that it is well used, particularly masks (ideally N95, P2 or equivalent).
  • Considering ways to limit contact between different team members, for example, using separate workplace “groups” to minimise contact between groups.
  • Minimising the risks from clients and visitors, for example, by limiting numbers or requiring outdoor or contactless pick-up and drop-off.

As well as this, it would be prudent to think about a worst case scenario where all or a vital portion of your team are required to isolate at the same time and consider what you could do in that situation. In such a scenario, your business might have to close temporarily and so it may be helpful to think now about where clients could be referred to and contact those other clinics now to open lines of communication.

Where to get more information

Got questions or need support?

If you have questions or need support, you can contact VCNZ or the NZVA and we will do our best to help you.

In addition, MBIE has a support line where all New Zealand businesses, including sole traders, can get support and advice on:

  • government financial support
  • support for Auckland businesses
  • what different COVID-19 Protection Framework levels mean for your business
  • business continuity
  • finding free or subsidised expert help, eg a business mentor or advisor.

Employers can also get specific advice on people challenges, including staffing changes, employee wellbeing, and meeting your health and safety obligations. Call:

  • North Island 0800 500 362
  • South Island 0800 505 096

Vitae is available for free counselling for all veterinary team members, call 0508 664 981 anytime.

You can also find wellbeing and mental health support resources on our website and NZVA members can access the NZVA Wellbeing Hub.