Information for staff working in early learning services, kura and schools about the Close Contact Scheme and Rapid Antigen Tests.
Close contact exemption scheme and access to Rapid Antigen Tests
About the Close Contact Exemption scheme
During Phases 2 and 3 of the Omicron response, the Close Contact Exemption scheme will enable ‘critical staff’ who are vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts of a COVID-19 case to continue to work outside of their place of residence.
Workers employed in an early learning service, kura or school may be covered by the scheme if the service, kura or school would otherwise be unable to supervise those children and students who need to attend.
To continue working under the scheme, they must:
- return a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) prior to attending work each day during the isolation period, and
- follow specific health measures.
Those who are participating in the scheme will be eligible to access free RATs.
Important to note about Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)
Rapid Antigen Test kits are not as accurate as the PCR tests that New Zealand has relied on to date.
This means that even though a staff member may return a negative result on a RAT, there is chance that they could be carrying COVID-19.
This is why you should only consider using the Close Contact Exemption Scheme as a last resort, and why you need to ensure the range of health measures outlined under the scheme are in place. You should only use the Close Contact Exemption Scheme so that you have the minimum number of adults required onsite to safely supervise children that need to be there. For example, to meet minimum adult:child ratios in early learning services, and to meet health and safety requirements.
Consider all options before accessing the scheme
It’s important that any decision to access this scheme will need to be balanced against the health risks for students. You must first consider all possible alternatives, such as:
- use of relief teachers, unregistered teachers who hold a Limited Authority to Teach, non-teaching staff providing supervision for distance learning, or
- rearranging classes or timetables.
We also encourage you to contact parents and caregivers to determine how many children must attend and other care options that may be available to them.
Your service, kura or school may also choose not to access the scheme. The best thing we can do to stop children from getting the virus – including unvaccinated under-5s – is to keep them isolated from those who may have COVID-19.
How to access the scheme
Follow the steps below to have your organisation registered as a critical business.
How to register as a critical service
Select the ‘Close Contact Scheme Exemption Register’ and complete the online form.
When you are asked for your primary business activity, select ‘miscellaneous’ from the drop-down list.
Once registered, you will receive a confirmation email with more information.
Health measures to support exempted close contacts
Eligible staff members will only be allowed to go to and from work. They must stay in their place of self-isolation at all other times.
Those who are onsite must also comply with the following health measures:
- Wear a medical mask at all times (including wearing a medical mask before entry to the workplace and changing as needed during the day).
- Anyone working in the same defined space must also wear a medical mask (the normal mask requirements will apply to children and students).
- Comply with any infection prevention and control protocols at work.
- If possible, travel solo or with a household member to, from and around work or between jobs. If public transport is required to go to work, the RAT should be taken (and a negative result returned) before leaving home.
- Eat alone in a well-ventilated space, outdoors where possible.
- Use a dedicated bathroom. If this is not possible, other people should not be present in the bathroom while the worker is using it.
- Ensure that if symptoms develop at any stage, they follow the public advice for close contacts with symptoms.
How to get the Rapid Antigen Test kits
Rapid antigen tests are only available at the time when you need them - that is, when you have a staff member (or staff members) who is an asymptomatic close contact and need to be onsite to supervise children who need to be there.
Once you’ve registered to the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, you will need to complete the following steps in order to receive your rapid antigen tests.
Your regional office will arrange collection of your order.
If you've received RAT kits for children and staff
If you have received kits for testing children and staff, and signed up for the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, you can used the test kits for both schemes.
You no longer need to contact the Ministry of Education or provide us with the details of who you are exempting from the legal requirement to isolate at home.
If you are exempting staff who are legally required to isolate under the Close Contact Exemption Scheme, you should assure yourself that you are complying with its requirements.
Find out more about RATs for symptomatic and asymptomatic testing scheme by clicking below.
How to use a Rapid Antigen Test
Page 10 of the brochure below shows a simple decision tree to guide you on the key steps you should follow once you have received your RAT result.
The Ministry of Health website has more information about RATs, including video demonstrations for the approved test kits.