Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Five deaths, 943 in hospital, 14,000+ cases today

Health officials have today reported 14,128 new community cases of Covid-19 and five Covid-related deaths.

There are 943 people in hospitals around the country, including 25 in intensive care.

The five deaths reported today were in Auckland, Waikato, Hutt Valley and Canterbury. All five deaths occurred in hospitals.

One of the people who died one was in their 50s, two were in their 70s and two were in their 80s.

In Auckland, there are 3498 Covid-19 cases and 616 people in hospital – 10 in ICU.

Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre associate chief clinical officer Dr Anthony Jordan and vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris today outlined the national and regional daily case numbers, hospitalisations, and the latest information on boosters.

Jordan said the message was clear: Auckland was still dealing with an outbreak.

“The virus is clearly seeking out those that are unvaccinated,” Jordan said, urging people to get any doses for which they were due.

He said getting boosted reduced a person’s likelihood of passing Covid-19 on to others.

The current rate of boosters in Auckland was lower than what he preferred, but he said community partners were rallying again to get people boosted.

Jordan said there was a slower vaccine uptake among Māori and the most important thing was how they responded to this.

Pop-up tamariki and whānau-focused events were happening today to support the vaccination drive.

Jordan said getting the right hospital bed in the right ward for people who needed Covid care was difficult at the moment.

“Yes, that is difficult for us.”

As for coming down from the peak and whether he would be comfortable with the country moving to an orange Covid setting, Jordan said what was happening in Auckland didn’t reflect the situation in the rest of the country.

Jordan thanked everyone across the health system for their contribution.

“Kia kaha, stay strong.”

Jordan said people needed to report both positive and negative Covid test results, to give health officials an idea of what was happening in the community.

On PCR turnaround times, Jordan said he would be very surprised if there was a 10-day wait for results anywhere in the country.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said booster vaccinations were an important part of most vaccine schedules and this also applied to some childhood immunisations.

Petousis-Harris said a booster vaccination stimulated the mature immunity our body had been working on. Boosted immunity lasted longer and was more effective than primary immunity, she said.

It also meant people would be better protected if they had their booster if other variants hit our shores, she said.

Petousis-Harris said Omicron was different to other variants and two doses weren’t as effective – but boosters changed this dramatically.

There was a misunderstanding that two doses were enough to protect against Omicron, she said. The misunderstandings included that people were being given too much of a vaccine – and that was not the case.

The important thing was to make sure people were up to date with Covid vaccines, which would not only protect individuals but those around them, she said.

Petousis-Harris also discussed pregnancy and vaccinations.

If you get vaccinated before or during breastfeeding, a mother could pass on some immunity to their babies, she said.

Petousis-Harris said if anyone was unsure about getting vaccinated while pregnant, they should speak to their GP.

Getting vaccinated while pregnant is was “very routine” and not “something that was new”.

On disinformation or misinformation regarding pregnant people and vaccines and boosters, Petousis-Harris said she “absolutely” had concerns about this and it had been one of the biggest challenges.

“It’s an enormous challenge for us. The growth [in misinformation] has been in … magnitude, reach and speed. It’s also something that is reaching more communities than it used to.”

Once most people in the world were at least partly immune to the pandemic, it would mean the impact on others would ease.

On child immunisations and reports they had stalled or only grown slightly, Petousis-Harris said this was an important question.

As winter approached and the border was set to reopen, Petousis-Harris said we were ill-prepared and were facing measles, whopping cough and other childhood diseases.

Turning those rates around needed to be an “absolute focus” and Petousis-Harris was not aware of what was being done to address that issue.

There was a big drop in the number of active community cases today. Yesterday, there were 199,645 cases. Overnight, that has dropped by 75,944 to 123,701.

Today’s press release shows the Ministry of Health has again changed the definition of an active community case. Yesterday, the definition was “cases identified in the past 10 days and not yet classified as recovered”. Today, the active period has been reduced to seven days.

The rolling seven-day average of community cases is 17,673.

The five deaths reported by the Ministry of Health today takes the total toll of reported deaths to 156. The seven-day rolling average of reported deaths is eight.

Today’s reported cases were in Northland (536), Auckland (3498), Waikato (1333), Bay of Plenty (956), Lakes (416), Hawke’s Bay (841), MidCentral (599), Whanganui (205), Taranaki (470), Tairāwhiti (232), Wairarapa (164), Capital and Coast (906), Hutt Valley (549), Nelson Marlborough (416), Canterbury (1,937), South Canterbury (135), Southern (890) and the West Coast (39).

The location of six cases is unknown.

The average age of the 943 people hospitalised across the country is 58. Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital has the most Covid-19 patients – 230.

The ministry said hospitalisations continued to increase, as was demand for primary care.

Today’s hospitalisations were in Northland (22), North Shore (177), Middlemore (230), Auckland (209), Waikato (68), Bay of Plenty (35), Lakes (8), Tairāwhiti (4), Hawke’s Bay (23), Taranaki (6), MidCentral (13), Hutt Valley (18), Capital and Coast (44), Wairarapa (5), Whanganui (1), Nelson Marlborough (13), Canterbury (47), South Canterbury (2), and the Southern region (18).

Meanwhile, 18 Covid-19 cases have been detected at the border.

Schools affected

The Education Ministry yesterday revealed that there were 64,500 cases in school, kura and early childhood centres in the past 10 days. Three in four New Zealand schools were now dealing with active Covid-19 cases with close to all schools in Taranaki, Whanganui, and Manawatū impacted by the outbreak.

Current data shows Hutt Valley DHB and Capital and Coast DHB are second and fourth for regions with the most active cases per 100,000 people.

At the same time experts are optimistic Auckland has passed its peak.

Old said case numbers in Auckland had continued to track downwards, confirming the region had passed its peak for case numbers, which were expected to decline in coming weeks.

With new hospital admissions appearing to plateau, Old said he hoped hospitalisations would turn a corner over the next week.

However, pressure continues to mount at the region’s hospitals, where hospitalisation rates remain high and staff numbers are below ideal levels.

Returning to normal

This morning, Attorney-General David Parker signalled New Zealand would return to normal faster than people might imagine given the Omicron outbreak had not overwhelmed the health system.

“Next week we will be making announcements on what happens to vaccine certificates and vaccine mandates.

“So as we pass through the Omicron peak I’ve got some confidence that we’re going to return to normality probably faster than people expect,” Parker told the AM show.

Yesterday the Prime Minister said the traffic light settings, mandates and vaccine passes were on the table for discussion by Cabinet with a decision on their future expected in the coming week.

“We have already indicated that as we come down, off our peak of Omicron, that we will be re-looking at everything from mandates, the vaccine passes – which we don’t believe will need to be used as widely anymore – and we will also be looking at all of the settings within the traffic light.”

The country is at the red traffic light setting of the Covid-19 Protecting Framework, which came into force on December 3 to replace the alert level system.

New Zealand moved to red on January 24 after fears Omicron could be circulating in the community.

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