Officials told hospital workers that they would be able to help on the COVID-19 wards if they became mildly ill, as Tuesday saw a record number of daily cases.
This was just the latest indication of how New Zealand has changed its approach to the virus. It has gone from suppression to elimination and is now accepting the omicron variant.
Experts believe that New Zealand's counterintuitive actions may have saved thousands of lives. They were able to avoid more severe variants and bought time to get people vaccined. Since the outbreak, New Zealand has only reported 65 deaths from virus-related illnesses in its population of 5 million people.
However, virus hospitalizations are on the rise and have reached a record high of over 750 on Tuesday. This is putting pressure on the system.
The country is witness to an explosion of cases. A month ago, the average number of cases was around 200 per day. The outbreak now affects everyone, from frontline workers to legislators.
Christopher Luxon, Opposition Leader, became the most prominent politician to declare that he had contracted the virus on Monday. He said he felt fine and would continue his work from home.
The return of thousands upon thousands of students from universities across the country in the last month has helped to exacerbate the epidemic.
Ralph Zambrano was the student president of Victoria University of Wellington. He said that the virus had quickly spread through hundreds of students living in residence halls and caused severe mental health problems.
He said that although campus is usually buzzing around this time of the year, it feels very strange and eerie. He also mentioned that many students are choosing to study remotely. "There is a lot of tension and anxiety."
He stated that the outbreak had caused food shortages in the halls. Some students were only offered a protein drink for breakfast and a piece of cold-cooked meat with peas for dinner.
According to the university, there were fewer cases in the halls as students recover.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist from the University of Otago said that the variant proved to be as ferociously infective in New Zealand than it was in other countries.
He stated that cases were beginning to plateau or dip in Auckland's largest city, Auckland, but are still increasing elsewhere.
While much of the world was heaving a sigh after two long years of horrible problems, Baker stated that New Zealand was at its worst in the pandemic. He was now coming to terms with knowing that the virus would continue to infect the country.
He expressed concern that health officials had lost their ability to track the outbreak. They were unable to move from a system in which they closely monitored a few cases to one where they dealt with thousands of self-reported rapid antigen test results.
The Director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health Dr. Caroline McElnay told reporters that although there would be an increase in hospitalizations, patients with omicron had generally less severe conditions than those with the delta variant.
She stated that the increasing number of patients and infected workers in hospitals had led to the relaxation of the rules regarding when they could return to work.
She stated that infected workers will only be allowed to work alongside patients with the virus if they have no other options.
She said, "It's an additional tool that enables us to keep our health system running."