Omicron Update | Essential is not Critical

You may have noticed that the term ‘essential’ is no longer being used to describe businesses now that Omicron is spreading, and our Traffic Light System has been put into place. There’s a new word the Government is using which is ‘critical’ and not all businesses that were once considered essential will fall under this new term.

Why is this important?

Because it is to ‘critical’ businesses that the supply of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) will be rationed.

RATs are a desperately needed tool to keep supply chains running through the unfolding outbreak of the Omicron strain of COVID-19.

The Government’s business website has stated that to ensure that sufficient workers are available to maintain “critical” infrastructure and supply chains throughout the Omicron outbreak, a “critical” workforce registration system will prioritise the allocation of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to businesses and provide for return-to-work testing for asymptomatic close contacts who would otherwise be required to self-isolate.

So, who’s critical?

According to the website, Government agencies will, over the coming week, proactively engage with key businesses in their sectors to ensure that critical workforces have been identified and registered and that there are sufficient supplies of RATs for those workers when needed.

A critical worker is identified by their employer as a role within a critical industry as broadly defined by Government that requires a person with particular skills who:

  • is required to undertake their role in person at the workplace; and
  • is in a role that must continue to be performed to either prevent the immediate risk of death or serious injury to a person or animal, or prevent serious harm (social, economic, or physical) to significant numbers in the community.

While food production is listed as one of the sectors deemed critical, not all food producers will be treated equally.

Think WWII-style rationing – flour, rice, bread, tinned goods, and fruit and veg are in but say goodbye to the treats! Regardless of whether you personally think that a packet of choccy biscuits, a bottle of wine, sodas, snacks, or "gasp" a bottle of wine are critical to your daily life, it looks like the Government will not agree.

Government agencies have begun to identify specific organisations with critical workers. If your business is not contacted and you have critical workers, you will be able to register your workers through an online portal that will be launched on business.govt.nz in February.

Many companies will not be approved, of course, despite this being a critical time for everyone. The "secondment" by the Government of the RAT kits will certainly be challenging for those businesses who thought they were prepared as we wade through the upcoming weeks. It is unlikely that the Government will have a smooth delivery system let alone a fair one when they dole out the kits. Once again New Zealand businesses are caught up in the lack of planning by the Government, looks like you just can't plan ahead and look after your business - not when you've got the Ministry of Health blocking you.