Public health specialist warns Kiwis COVID-19 cases will continue to rise after Saturday's record tally

A public health specialist is warning New Zealanders to continue to expect COVID-19 case numbers to rise over the coming days. 

This comes after New Zealand recorded its highest daily total of 160 cases on Saturday. There were cases reported across four New Zealand regions - 151 in Auckland, seven in Waikato, one in Northland and one in Canterbury.

Lesley Gray, a public health specialist at the University of Otago in Wellington, painted a grim picture of what is to come when the Ministry of Health announces cases this week.

"I think most the modelling shows the case numbers will increase because the 'R' number - the reproduction number -  is higher than one which means one person will infect more than one other person, so sadly it's not a surprise at all that the case numbers are going up, especially with so many unlinked cases in the community particularly in the Auckland area," Gray tells Newshub. 

"Since we've had so many unlinked cases that means we don't know where some of this infection is originating from, so it's very difficult to track down and stop. At the moment, we are not following an elimination strategy anymore so we are likely to see cases go up and come down and go up again for quite some time to come."

Gray says even though the Government might have moved away from its elimination approach, there are still ways to protect yourself from attaining COVID-19.

"The best thing for people in areas of clusters or sub-clusters can do is take their own strategies to minimise transmission and that includes staying in your household bubble wherever possible, when you go out shopping, make sure you're following as many of the non-pharmaceutical measures as possible so that includes mask up, hand hygiene and track and trace your movements. 

"Of course the biggest thing we are now facing and the best thing people can do is making sure they're double vaccinated. 

"Unfortunately if we don't see people taking those measures we do already have the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the community and it will continue to transmit and especially to those who are not taking these prevented measures and who are not yet vaccinated.

"We still have a large number in the population who are not vaccinated and when you look at the figures at who is acquiring an infection of those the vast majority are still unvaccinated." 

With COVID in the community, a big worry now is that it's made its way into an aged care facility. Even with high vaccination rates among the elderly - above 90 percent fully vaccinated for people aged over 65 - they're still susceptible to the virus due to their underlying health conditions.   

"If the Delta variant does make its way into any aged-care facility then those people even if they're double vaccinated are still at more risk than the general population," Gray tells Newshub. "When people are vaccinated it does reduce the risk of them acquiring, the risk of them transmitting and also the infection will be less severe but if you do have people that are quite unwell or very frail to start with even a mild response to [the] transmission can make the difference between being very unwell or not. So we need to reduce the risk to these vulnerable populations as much as possible."

Gray believes altough cases will continue to bounce around and increase, New Zealanders shouldn't expect more lockdowns once each region's District Health Board (DHB) reaches the 90 percent vaccination rate target.