Coronavirus: Counties Manukau DHB modelling shows tens of thousands of COVID cases next year, hundreds of deaths

Middlemore hospital is at the heart of the current outbreak - there are 17 COVID-19 patients in the hospital right now.

There have been more than 1600 cases in this current outbreak and 60 percent are in South Auckland.

Newshub can reveal the Counties Manukau DHB's own modelling shows it's planning for tens of thousands of COVID cases next year and potentially hundreds of deaths in the region alone.

Dr Gary Jackson is Middlemore's top public health expert. He knows what's coming when restrictions ease, and he's worried.

"It's stressful, and I worry about our population," he says. "We've got some of the most vulnerable people in New Zealand living in our South Auckland catchment and they're not prepared for this."

The modelling is based on a number of variables, like vaccination rates, border controls and community restrictions.

What the documents describe as looser restrictions would mean contact tracing and isolation are our main tool against the virus, lockdowns are no longer but we would open our border to some countries.

"Some of the numbers in the bigger scenarios are very scary," Dr Jackson says.

With a 90 percent vaccination rate in Counties Manukau, there could still be 50,000 cases in the region a year. That's one in 10 people. Close to 1500 people could end up in hospital and 250 could die. That's five a week.

If only 80 percent are vaccinated, the numbers skyrocket: 70,000 cases, 2300 hospitalisations and 400 deaths.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga is a public health expert and a member of the Ministry of Health's COVID Technical Advisory Group. 

"To base a model on 90 percent is hugely ambitious," he says.

He believes the Counties-Manukau modelling is conservative.  

"I think that's pie in the sky, this is one of the most difficult areas to achieve coverage; more Māori, more Pacific, more people in lower incomes, more marginalised".

It's the disproportionate impact that also has Māori Health advocate and GP Dr Rawiri Jansen worried. 

"We are going to have families that are deeply disturbed by deaths in households. It's going to be a rough year, I've got to say."

The modelling estimates 20 percent of all COVID deaths in the region will be Māori and a whopping 40 percent will be Pacific. 

"I don't mean to be disrespectful of the families of the people who have died, but relatively speaking we have seen very few deaths and New Zealanders have no idea how bad this thing could get," Tukuitonga says.

Sobering statistics all three experts hope will encourage people to get vaccinated.