Auckland hospitals may start discharging COVID-positive patients as system reaches 'tipping point'

Auckland hospitals have reached a tipping point.

The region's hospitals have been told COVID-positive patients can now be sent home as long as they can leave hospital without spreading the virus to others.

Hospitals are under pressure, so is managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) - and the outbreak could yet escalate. So, there's been a rule change.

It hasn't been made public but Auckland Public Health has told hospital staff: "People who are COVID-positive may be discharged from hospital if they are able to transfer to their usual place of residence without exposing other people."

"The system is tipping into community management because of the high number of cases we're now seeing with COVID," says Royal NZ College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty.

"If that continues to increase, this trend will continue so it is a very, very fast-moving situation at this point."

Daily case numbers are still trending up with 79 on Tuesday. People in hospitals with the virus are going in the same direction with 37 today.

"We always knew there would be a tipping point," Dr Betty says.

Dr Betty warns that the tipping point has arrived, meaning GPs may soon be required to pick up the slack.

"There's been a lot of activity in the past three to four weeks in terms of anticipated that this would happen. We can always say that the process should have commenced earlier."

Epidemiologist Rod Jackson says we need to be prepared for the outbreak to worsen and the changing policy at hospitals makes sense to ensure there's capacity for the most acute cases.

The advice is patients with COVID can leave hospital if:

  • They're driven home by a household member that's already been exposed
  • Can drive themselves
  • Or can be transferred with ambulance staff in full PPE

A spokesperson for the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre told Newshub allowing COVID positive patients to isolate at home is based on a number of factors including: 

  • If the person can safely isolate away from others at home
  • Has phone and internet access
  • "Would like to, and feels safe to be considered for home isolation." 
  • Others in the household understand they'll need to stay isolated for a "further 14 days once the last case in the household has recovered".

"If these conditions are breached at any time then public health reassess the suitability of home isolation for the case or their contacts," a spokesperson told Newshub.

And just as our hospital's shift their policy, MIQ is also facing a shakeup in the face of increased pressure on capacity.

The 14-day stay in MIQ could be axed for people returning from overseas who are double-vaxxed.

"It's possible that international arrivals will have greater movement at the border before the end of this summer," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Greater movement means home isolation, rather than hotel isolation. The Opposition says it's about time.

"It does not make any sense to make people who are fully vaccinated to spend the full 14 days in MIQ. The sooner we can end the lottery of human misery, which is MIQ, the better," National's COVID Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

The MIQ lottery has caused significant stress - a reprieve is on the horizon with precise details expected on Wednesday.