Omicron is the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa in November 2021. Video/NZ Herald

Public health experts have urged the government to reduce the gap between the second dose of Covid-19 and their booster shots by four to three months as Omicron is confirmed in the community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that New Zealand will go through a red light at midnight tonight.

Nine Covid cases in Motueka, Nelson/Tasman region are confirmed to have the Omicron variant, Ardern said.

They traveled to Auckland, attending a wedding on January 13 and another event a few days later. These events brought together more than 100 people.

Omicron is now circulating in Auckland and possibly the Nelson area, if not further afield, Ardern said.

How the experts reacted

Epidemiologist professors Michael Baker and Rod Jackson have urged the government to go further than changing traffic lights and cut eligibility for booster shots from four to three months, as Australia has just announced.

About 56% of eligible adults have already received their booster.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.  Photo / Provided
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker. Photo / Provided

But Baker, of the University of Otago, said changes in our own behavior, via the traffic light system, would have a big impact in blunting the blow of an Omicron wave.

“Limiting the size of gatherings will make a big difference – and working from home should certainly be encouraged.”

Jackson, of the University of Auckland, argued that a delay in the start of the school year – as others have called for – could help reduce the number of cases.

“It’s a major setting for super-spreading, and it’s not that kids themselves are getting incredibly sick — it’s that they’re infecting their teachers, parents, and grandparents,” Jackson said.

“I understand it’s controversial in terms of disrupting everything, but we have one goal, and one goal only – and that’s to flatten the peak.

“We’re not going to stop Omicron, but we can slow him down.”

What does the red light setting mean

Red is the most restrictive traffic light setting, but domestic travel can continue. There would be no more borders around the regions, like the recent borders of Auckland.

Although the lockdowns are not widespread, there could be localized lockdowns at a workplace or school, for example, depending on what was happening during the outbreak.

With a vaccine pass, many businesses and events can accommodate up to 100 people, including hospitality, gyms, weddings and tangihanga. Without a pass, reception services must remain contactless and the aforementioned gatherings are limited to 25 people.

In red, face coverings are mandatory when traveling on public transport, in retail and to some extent in education. Public facilities and outlets are open, with capacity limits.

Tertiary students must study remotely if they do not have a vaccine pass.

Gyms and close-contact businesses like hairdressers and beauty salons can open red as long as public health measures are in place.

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