Phase 2 Covid-19 response: An update from Waka Kotahi

An update from Waka Kotahi on the Close Contact Exemption Scheme and access to rapid antigen tests. 

Phase 2 means critical businesses and organisations can keep their critical workers working if they become a close contact of someone with COVID-19, by using the Close Contact Exemption Scheme (CCES). The Scheme will allow vaccinated asymptomatic critical workers who are close contacts to be able to go to work and help businesses keep operating if they get high numbers of absenteeism. (The Scheme will only clear workers to go to work and return back to their place of isolation – not to go anywhere else like the supermarket, petrol station or a relative/friend’s place.) Under the Scheme, critical workers will be able to report self-administered RATs in My Covid Record and can return to work with a negative test result.

As this is a new scheme, there have been some minor issues to be resolved as it has rolled out on day one – most of these are now clarified in the updated MoH guidance (attached), and I will try to clarify some of the key points below.

Close contacts

The scheme is available for use by workers who have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19. To access the scheme, a worker will need to have confirmation of their Close Contact status as evidence. This will either be by an alert on the NZ COVID Tracer app or by a text message (if a worker does not have their own phone, they can have the text message sent to a family member/friend/colleague’s phone).

Update from Ministry of Health
As positive case numbers increase during this Omicron outbreak, Ministry of Health contact tracing efforts will be targeted towards high-risk exposures. Confirmed cases will have a responsibility to inform their employer and other contacts. In most instances, workplaces will be able to undertake their own contact tracing activities if a case was there during their infectious period. There may be situations in which contact tracing is expected to be entirely managed by the case and their employer, and public health authorities may not be in touch.

Page 5 of the updated Rapid Antigen Testing guide shows how workers can self-identify as a close contact and receive the text message required to access the Scheme.

The Ministry of Health website has:

It also includes a definition that workers and businesses can use to self-identify as close contacts: 

"A reminder for businesses is to consider their HSWA obligations when deciding to use this Scheme to return close contacts to the workplace. There is a possibility that a worker may receive a negative RAT test result when they are a positive case (and potentially infectious). While the Scheme does not distinguish between household and other close contacts, the general rule-of-thumb is that a household close contact will catch Omicron and become a positive case."

We recommend use of the CCES Scheme should be a last resort for businesses, and other options (such as working in a bubble of one) should be considered first. However, this remains a matter between the employer and employee.

Access to RATs

Pages 6-8 of the Rapid Antigen Testing guide describe how workers can access RAT tests to use this Scheme, via one of three models – please read these pages for the full details.

Model One: Centralised distribution accessed through employer
Advice from the Ministry of Health is that Model 1 is designed for organisations that are either at the frontline of managing the COVID-19 response and working with COVID-19 cases, or providers who are working with high density vulnerable populations – there is no application process to access this model.

Model Two: Decentralised distribution accessed through Collection Sites
This is the model most likely to be used by the transport sector.This Model requires workers to complete an online order form to generate an Order Number that is required at the collection site.

Model Three: Decentralised distribution accessed through employer
This model will be available when there is a significant number of close contacts (i.e. 20 or more) at a single worksite/location. We are still working through some final details of how this will work, and we will distribute guidance on this model early next week.

If you have any questions about the Scheme (or other COVID matters) please contact us: [email protected]