Wellington: The government of New Zealand announced giving away free masks and rapid antigen tests on Thursday.
The statement comes as the government tries to control the spread of COVID-19 and relieve pressure on the country’s health system.
The hospitals in New Zealand are struggling with a rush of COVID and influenza patients.
There has been quite a marked rise in the number of new COVID cases in New Zealand during the past few weeks.
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The authorities predict that this Omicron wave might be more harmful than the first, Reuters reported. The hospital system is already struggling with increased wait times and canceled surgeries.
“There’s no question the assortment of a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the worst flu season in recent memory, and related staff absences are putting health workers and the whole health system under intense pressure,” Ayesha Verrall, Minister for COVID-19 Response, said in a message.
New Zealand, with a population of 5.1 million, recorded 11,382 new cases of COVID on Thursday. It has a total of 68,737 currently infected with the virus. Of those, 765 patients are now in hospital.
A one-time poster child for tackling the coronavirus, New Zealand’s swift response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation kept the country largely COVID-free until the end of last year.
However, earlier this year, with a primarily vaccinated population, the government retired its zero-COVID policy, allowing the virus to spread.
Verrall said while COVID-zero was no longer possible, people needed to wear masks to get tested and isolate if either they or someone in their home tested positive for the virus.
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New Zealand is making free masks and tests more widely available, allowing pharmacies to sell COVID medicines. The New Zealand government is expanding the eligibility criteria for dispersing antiviral medication.
Minister Ayesha says, “Now’s not the time to stop wearing masks.” She added, “Evidence tells us wearing a mask halves your chance of a COVID-19 infection.
It also protects you against influenza and other winter illnesses, so if you don’t wear a mask for yourself, please wear one for healthcare workers,” said Verrall.