Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: cases heading for peak in mid-March – expert

New Zealand recorded another record number of community cases of Covid-19 today. Video / NZ Herald

New Zealand is on track to see 10,000 Covid-19 infections a day – with most cases expected to be recorded in Auckland – by mid-March, an expert predicts.

The Department of Health yesterday reported 1,573 community cases, most of them in Auckland – 1,140.

The remaining cases were in Northland (31), Waikato (143), Bay of Plenty (29), Lakes (35), Hawke’s Bay (2), MidCentral (3), Whanganui (11), Taranaki (8), Tairāwhiti (8), Wairarapa (30), Capital and Coast (20), Hutt Valley (22), Nelson Marlborough (49), Canterbury (7) and the Southern Region (35).

Michael Baker, a professor at the University of Otago, said the trend of rising cases was exactly what was expected and indicated the outbreak could peak in March.

“[It has been] three weeks since community transmission was actually established in New Zealand and we have seen this initial increase in cases,” Baker told the New Zealand Herald.

“The moving average of cases has not deviated from a steeply rising exponential curve where the numbers are doubling maybe every five days or so, plus or minus a day or two.

“If this trend continues from the current numbers, we could reach 10,000 cases per day in early March.

“That’s why we’re going to need all the tools we have just to try to mitigate this increase in cases. We can do a little better than that if all New Zealanders really do their best to get their recalls, getting tested and self-isolating, and to limit transmission by using masks indoors and limiting their social gatherings.”

However, Baker said that even if we hit the projected 10,000 cases, we might not actually see them due to a lack of testing capacity.

“We will have to think about other tools, [such as] much higher availability of rapid antigen testing,” Baker said. Some places such as hospitals could test people, as Middlemore does, as a way to detect infections in the community.

Auckland was about two to three weeks ahead of the rest of the country in case numbers, Baker said.

“That means we will see a spike nationally that actually includes a spike in different places at different times.”

New Zealand’s positivity rate – the percentage of positive tests – was heading towards a steady position above 5%, indicating there was widespread transmission, he said.

“It basically means that if you did more testing you would find more cases because testing only picks up a minority of cases. It’s a sign that there is now widespread transmission, especially in Auckland, and that means we will miss quite a few cases.”

In addition to the new record number of cases yesterday, 63 people – with an average age of 62 – were hospitalized with Covid-19 but none were in intensive care. They are in hospitals in Auckland, Rotorua, Tauranga, Waikato, Wellington and Tairāwhiti.

A Ministry of Health statement said yesterday that since January 22, when the first case of Omicron was detected in the community, double-vaccinated cases have been 10 times less likely to require hospitalization than non-double-vaccinated cases. vaccinated.

“Four percent of unvaccinated cases required hospitalization and 0.4% of fully vaccinated cases required hospitalization.”

Dr Arindam Basu, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Canterbury, said the current high number of cases was expected because epidemiologists had long predicted them.

“We did well in the sense that we could have been much worse had it not been for the resumption of vaccination that we have experienced.

“While it is true that the numbers are high, it is also true that the numbers could have been much higher than what we saw and the credit goes to the general feeling in the community, that people have made themselves reminders and things like that.

“It helps to slow down what could have been a much more exponential spread. But the danger is not over yet. So I think it’s a good idea to go in there now and boost ourselves.”

Associate Professor Dr Arindam Basu of the University of Canterbury.  Photo / Provided
Associate Professor Dr Arindam Basu of the University of Canterbury. Photo / Provided

Meanwhile, thousands of people who work on district health boards have voted to strike after “15 months of unsuccessful negotiations while carrying out essential work during the pandemic”, the Public Service Association announced ( PSA).

The group is made up of 10,000 allied, public health, scientific and technical professionals and the issues they are fighting on include low pay and pay equity.

PSA organizer Will Matthews said the depth of member sentiment and support for industrial action nationwide is unprecedented.

“There are more than 70 groups of workers who will go on strike: from laboratory workers – who are responsible for the rapid testing and return of Covid-19 tests and Covid-19 contact tracers – to sterile supply technicians who clean and sterilize all surgical equipment prior to procedures – New Zealand needs each of these professionals,” said Matthews.

“And yet many of them don’t even earn a living wage.”

Testing sites continued to see high demand yesterday and the Department of Health asked people visiting the sites to be patient.

In a 24-hour period to Thursday, 32,285 Covid tests were processed.

It was important that people only requested a test if they had cold or flu symptoms, had been identified as a close contact or had been told to get tested by a health official, said the Ministry.

“We understand that some people will feel worried or anxious at this time and want to take a test to reassure themselves.

“However, unnecessary testing will cause long waits at test centers and could also delay results for those who urgently need them.”

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Carol N. Valencia