Omicron has thrown the country into a seemingly contradictory position: leaders seeking to open up must suddenly consider how to limit its transmission, if at all.This week there was a huge change, as part of an effort to "live with" the virus. The national cabinet's decision to redefine a "close contact" to the bare minimum of someone living with a confirmed COVID-19 case or having spent more than four hours with them in a home, accommodation or care facility will inevitably mean cases — and therefore hospitalisations — will rise.
New Zealand is hoping to avoid an Australia-style COVID-19 testing disaster, stocking up on rapid antigen tests as it readies for the inevitable arrival of Omicron.
Health authorities revised their RAT order last week, buying another six million rapid tests.
New Zealand has reported just three community cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant to date, including a British DJ who left his self-isolation early to party in Auckland.
The other two cases were an Air New Zealand crew member and their household contact, with no further spread across the community.
More than two dozen Sydney COVID-19 testing sites shut temporarily
Dozens of PCR testing clinics have been temporarily closed across Sydney as providers struggle to keep up with sustained high demand.Private company Australian Clinical Labs on Monday announced the closure of 28 of its 29 sites "effective immediately", leaving open only its Bella Vista clinic for paid international travel tests.
However, with dozens of cases found in international arrivals on a daily basis, it appears to be just a matter of time before it leaks from the border regime.
COVID-19 modeller Michael Plank, of the University of Canterbury, said mounting cases in the quarantine system - known as MIQ - added risk.
"For the bulk of last year we were seeing two or three cases a day on average and we're now seeing cases in the 20s or 30s coming into MIQ per day," he said.
"From 1 Jun to 1 Dec (2021) we averaged about 2.6 MIQ cases a day and had one border-related outbreak.
"MIQ cases are now up by a factor of over 10. If that continues we might expect the next outbreak to occur in 18 days rather than 180 days."
New Zealand has held onto the more rigorous PCR testing regime through the pandemic.
Hundreds queue without knowing test sites are shut, as Qld records 5699 cases
Queensland has recorded 5699 new cases of COVID-19, as hundreds were left frustrated after waiting hours in queues at closed testing sites. Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said COVID was spreading across Queensland, with more than 25,900 cases active across the state on Tuesday. "That means many people you know are likely to have COVID," Ms D'Ath said. "We have 11 people now in ICU, two of those people are on a ventilator." Ms D'Ath said there were very long lines at testing clinics across the state, adding that "a number of private pathologists are not opening at the moment".
Video: Victoria sees an increase in new COVID cases with 7,442 infections (Sky News Australia)
It is now using RATs in government healthcare settings for staff and visitors, as well as in the police force and prisons.
Unvaccinated Kiwis leaving Auckland - the centre of the Delta outbreak - this summer need to get a RAT at a pharmacy if they are going on a road trip, or through Air New Zealand or on the Cook Strait ferries if travelling by air or sea.
A number of businesses are also using RATs for their staff.
In the event of an outbreak, RATs will be used more broadly - prompting the Ministry of Health to stock up.
"The Ministry of Health has nearly three million rapid antigen tests currently ... we have recently revised our order in light of Omicron and what is occurring in other jurisdictions and have increased our forward order to six million rapid antigen tests," a spokesman told AAP.
Victorians fed up with lack of rapid antigen tests as they're turned away from testing queues
People are becoming frustrated at the COVID-19 testing regime as they are turned away from screening stations and unable to come by at-home testing kits. Testing stations are again closing their queues early this week as demand continues to grow amid the Omicron outbreak, of which 76 per cent of samples in Victoria since Christmas are the latest COVID-19 variant.Bendigo Health reported as much as a four-hour wait on Sunday and Monday to get tested at its McLaren Street drive-through and walk-in testing stations.
Despite a global shortage of the tests, New Zealand expects to receive supplies "in stages over the coming days and few weeks".
Government ministers are on leave, but a spokeswoman for deputy PM Grant Robertson said bureaucrats were watching ballooning case numbers in Australia carefully.
"Ministry of Health officials are in constant communication with their counterparts in Australia," she said.
"As you would expect, anything we learn from Australia informs our planning and preparedness for Omicron cases in the community, as the pandemic continues to evolve."
The other key part of New Zealand's Omicron preparedness is its vaccination program.
New Zealand has strong vaccine coverage - 92 per cent of Kiwis aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated - and has shortened the wait time for booster shots from six months to four.
That will mean more than 80 per cent of jabbed Kiwis are eligible for boosters by the end of February.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said New Zealand should "boost like crazy" in the next six weeks.
"Try and get at least two-thirds of the over 60 population boosted ... before Omicron comes in, and get the public ready," he told Radio NZ.
Hundreds of Fed-Up Boston Students Walk Out to Protest Learning in COVID ‘Petri Dishes’ .
Hundreds of Boston public school students stormed out of their classes on Friday to protest in-person learning as COVID-19 continues to surge. After the walkout, students across the district delivered an online presentation with a list of demands to local and state officials, insisting that “students should not have to risk their lives for an education.” More than 600 high school students across 11 schools participated in Friday morning’s peaceful protest, according to Boston.com. They reportedly left their classes at 10:30 a.m. Some returned to school after the walkout, and others simply went home.