Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Auckland numbers peak, cases expected to climb for the rest of country

The traffic light settings, mandates and vaccine passes are on the table for discussion by Cabinet with a decision on their future expected in the coming week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“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,” Ardern said.

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.

Health authorities yesterday reported 19,566 community cases, 930 hospitalisations including 23 people in intensive care, and a further 10 Covid-related deaths.

Alarmingly, Ministry of Health data shows that Māori, who make up 17 per cent of the population but 24 per cent of cases, are again disproportionately represented, making up a quarter of all deaths nationally – nearly half were under 59 years of age.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said history was repeating itself with inequalities, which were seen for all serious infectious diseases.

“We need to keep focusing over and over again on minimising inequalities, which means really delivering more service to people who are most affected by infection and I think the challenge now is to raise vaccine and booster coverage rates for Māori and Pacific.”

Of eligible Māori aged 12 and older, 91.3 per cent have had one dose, 88 per cent have had two doses and 59.2 per cent of those eligible have been boosted.

The data showed people over the age of 70 have made up more than half of Covid-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of yesterday’s reported community cases, 4867 were in Auckland and 622 people were in Auckland hospitals.

Northern Region Health Coordination Centre chief clinical officer Dr Andrew 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 with hospitalisation rates remaining high and staffing numbers below ideal levels.

Old said before Covid, DHBs in Auckland were already running about 15 per cent below ideal staffing levels because of issues such as vacancies and unplanned leave. Today, staff levels were down by up to a further 10 per cent.

The Herald reported yesterday that nurses and midwives were being offered a $500 bonus for every night shift they worked as hospitals encountered severe staffing shortages amid Omicron.

Old said the bonuses were put in place for two weeks to cover “quite extreme circumstances” and were a recognition of people working critical but otherwise hard-to-fill shifts, such as nights.

“For two years we’ve been asking people to go above and beyond and now we are asking them to go above and beyond beyond so it was a recognition of that.”

Middlemore’s emergency department clinical director Dr Vanessa Thornton said Covid sought and found unvaccinated people, and also urged everyone to get vaccinated and to get a booster shot.

“We do see the sickest of the people and that’s why we are trying to recommend people get vaccinated to avoid coming into hospital.”

They could treat more people – including expanding to another ward if needed, she said.

Yesterday, 20 people were in hospital in Northland, 170 in Auckland’s North Shore Hospital, 250 in Middlemore, 202 in Auckland, 66 in Waikato, 35 in Bay of Plenty, seven in Lakes, two in Tairāwhiti, 23 in the Hawke’s Bay, 10 in Taranaki, 16 in MidCentral, 22 in Hutt Valley, 43 in Capital and Coast, seven in Wairarapa, 11 in Nelson Marlborough, 30 in Canterbury and 16 in hospital in the Southern region.

The average age of people in hospital is 58.

Yesterday deaths were recorded in Northland (one), Auckland (five), Bay of Plenty (one), Hawke’s Bay (one) and Hutt Valley (one). The location of the 10th death was not listed.

The seven-day rolling average of community cases is 18,650 and there are now 199,645 active community cases in the country.

Although experts are optimistic Auckland has passed its peak, Covid-19 community cases numbers continue to rise elsewhere.

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.

As of 10.30am yesterday, 92 schools in the Wellington Region had active Covid-19 cases, including 27 early learning service centres.

Nationally, 77 per cent of New Zealand schools are managing cases. In Auckland, this figure is 87 per cent.

Henderson Intermediate principal Wendy Esera said the virus had spread among students despite the school’s best efforts. Among the school’s 720 students, 105 cases have been recorded and 53 were clustered in groups of close friends.

Meanwhile, 95.4 per cent of New Zealanders, here and overseas, have had two doses of Covid-19 vaccine and 72.9 per cent of those eligible have had a booster dose.

For Pacific peoples, aged 12 and older, 96.4 per cent have had their second dose and 59.7 per cent of those eligible have been boosted.

Of children aged 5-11, 53.5 per cent have had one dose of vaccine. For Māori and Pacific children, these figures are 34.2 per cent and 46.4 per cent, respectively.

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