Omicron | Lessons from Australia

According to an Australian business leader, New Zealand's close contact settings need to change in order to avoid the same “crippling labour shortages” Australia experienced during its Omicron outbreak.

In a video conference, led by former New Zealand prime minister Sir Bill English, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott​ shared lessons Australian businesses had learnt over the past four months of its Omicron outbreak.

Australia made the mistake of not quickly abandoning its Delta settings, which resulted in workforce shortages and supply chain disruption, she said.

“Do not apply the Delta rules to manage Omicron.”

Australia has had more than 2.2 million known cases of Omicron, and at the peak of the outbreak in January up to 40 percent of workers were side-lined because close contact rules designed for the Delta variant meant they were having to isolate, she said.

“Other countries gave up on that very quickly. We held onto those Delta principles and that's been a huge problem. It took a lot of people out of the workforce.”

Westacott said, in managing Omicron, New Zealand had an “enormous advantage” of being able to learn from what worked in Australia and what didn’t.

“My strong advice is to act now.”

Last week, the Government announced a close contact exemption scheme allowing critical workers who were close contacts to test to return to work. As of Friday, 3901 businesses had registered for the scheme, a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment spokesman said.

Hospitality businesses currently do not qualify as critical, even though access to RATs would make a huge difference in ensuring businesses were not crippled because of staff having to isolate.

Many in the foodservice and hospitality sectors are asking why the Government won’t give businesses the tools they need to survive?