Covid 19 Omicron: 6,232 new cases as experts say peak likely past

Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield gives his final Covid-19 briefing before leaving office on Friday. Video / Mark Mitchell

There are 6232 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today.

The latest figures from the Department of Health come as experts say our last surge of Covid-19 infections was smaller than it could have been, and has now likely passed its peak due to the hybrid immunity.

The latest figures mean the seven-day rolling average for the number of cases in the community today is 7,405, up from 8,703 last Saturday and bringing the number of people in the community with Covid-19 to 54,192.

Just over 240 of those infected had recently traveled abroad.

The number of people who died is no longer reported over the weekend under the ministry’s new reporting system.

As of yesterday, 1,479 deaths were confirmed to be attributable to Covid-19, either as the underlying cause of death or as a contributing factor.

The average increase in deaths each day attributable to Covid-19, over the past seven days to yesterday, was 18, the ministry said.

There are 769 people hospitalized with the virus, up from 764 a week ago. Of those in hospital today, 18 are in high dependency or intensive care units.

David Welch, Jemma Geoghegan and Michael Plank today wrote about the steadily declining seven-day moving average of daily new cases.

They fell from a peak of around 10,000 on July 15 to just under 7,800 on Thursday, they wrote in The Conversation, a nonprofit online publishing platform.

“The strength of hybrid immunity induced by high vaccination rates and the large and relatively recent BA.2 wave in Aotearoa likely means that this BA.5 wave is smaller than it otherwise would have been,” they said. writes the experts.

Yet new peer-reviewed evidence from Qatar and Denmark suggests that those who had previously been infected with the Omicron variant had relatively strong immunity against BA.5.

“Qatar and Denmark both have highly vaccinated populations and this is proof of the strength of hybrid immunity.”

Michael Plank is a professor of applied mathematics.  Photo / Provided
Michael Plank is a professor of applied mathematics. Photo / Provided

Welch and Geoghegan are both university lecturers, with Welch doing genomic modeling and analysis of Covid-19, and Geoghegan an ESR associate scientist. Plank is Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Canterbury.

The true number of infections was probably much higher – not everyone tests when they feel unwell – but there was no reason to think that testing had dropped significantly over the past two weeks, or even over the past few months, they wrote.

“The amount of virus detected in sewage has also decreased over the past week…this means the drop in cases is likely to be real.”

12,270 rapid antigen test results were reported in the past 24 hours and 3,467 PCR tests were performed, the ministry said.

The latest wave of Covid-19 had also passed with hospitalizations at the low end of what was originally expected.

Earlier this week, outgoing Chief Health Officer Ashley Bloomfield – whose last day of work was yesterday – said Covid hospitalization rates continued to hold steady or rise.

While there’s a chance they could still hit over 1,000, the revised peak was 850, which we came close to last weekend, he said.

Of those hospitalized with the virus today, the largest number are in hospitals in Metro Auckland and Canterbury/West Coast.

In Auckland, 75 are in Waitematā and 140 in Auckland.

The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the other regions is: Northland: 15; Bay of Plenty: 34; Lakes: 15; Hawke’s Bay: 37; Central midfield: 48; Wanganui: 14; Taranaki: 18; Tairawhiti: 3; Wairarapa: 6; Capital & Coast/Hutt: 29; Nelson Marlborough: 15; Canterbury/West Coast: 113; Canterbury South: 16 and South: 43.

Latest figures were not available for Manukau and Waikato counties today. They had 51 and 97 hospitalizations with Covid-19 respectively yesterday.

Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield pictured at his final Covid-19 press conference this week.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield pictured at his final Covid-19 press conference this week. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Hospitalizations typically lag a week or two behind cases, Welch, Geoghegan and Plank wrote.

“Consistent with this trend, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has recently shown signs of stabilizing. It will likely start to decline in the coming week.”

More importantly, cases fell across all age groups – including the over-70s, which was particularly good news.

“Rising case rates in older age groups have been a key driver of the sharp increase in hospitalizations and deaths during this wave.”

The average age of people hospitalized today with Covid-19 is 64, with 63 unvaccinated or ineligible, six partially vaccinated, 62 double vaccinated and 332 boosted.

Nationally, 95.2% of people aged 12 and over have had at least two Covid-19 vaccinations and 73.4% of people aged 18 and over have had a booster.

Just under 30% of children aged 5 to 11 have received two vaccines.

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Young families could see a rise in infections as schoolchildren return to class after the winter break, the experts wrote.

“But that probably won’t be enough to reverse the downward trend and hopefully won’t affect older age groups to the same extent.”

The drop in new daily cases could happen relatively slowly, as it did after the first wave of Omicron in March – eventually plateauing between 5,000 and 8,000 for several months.

But there was reason to be optimistic that hospitalizations and deaths could fall lower than they did between waves BA.2 and BA.5, Welch, Geoghegan and Plank wrote.

“Although immunity is not perfect and wanes over time, those who have not yet been infected with Omicron are the easiest targets for the virus.”

They were becoming harder and harder to find as the number of uninfected Kiwis dwindled. To date, there have been 1,599,202 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

“The deployment of fourth doses for eligible people more than six months after their last dose, together with the building of evidence for the strength of hybrid immunity, suggests that the New Zealand population is increasingly better protected against variants currently in circulation.”

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Carol N. Valencia