COVID-19: Māori health leaders warn Omicron will overrun testing, tracing systems

Māori health leaders want New Zealand to focus on dealing with the tail of Delta, while also planning for an Omicron outbreak they warn will overwhelm the system.

Heading in for a jab is still the number one focus for New Zealand in combatting Delta.

The Ministry of Health took a break from Covid numbers on Saturday, but on Friday reported just 35 community cases.

"Currently we have a very competent system for dealing with Delta, but all the evidence from overseas is that when Omicron arrives there's gonna be massive changes," Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā co-leader Professor Papaarangi Reid says.

At a hui on Saturday, Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā - the National Māori Pandemic Group - looked at what Omicron will mean for Māori in particular when it muscles its way out of MIQ.

"The system that we have for testing will be overrun. The system that we have for contact tracing will be overrun," Prof Reid says.

That's what's happened in Australia, where New South Wales reported 45,000 new cases on Saturday. Victoria's was even higher - with over 51,000 new cases reported. Actual numbers are likely to be much higher - the system can't keep up with demand for testing.

Overwhelmed systems are what the US, UK and Australia are all seeing. But while it may feel neverending, US President Joe Biden sees an end of sorts.

"COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay but COVID, as we are dealing with it now, is not here to stay," he said.

When Omicron arrives here, Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā predicts individuals will need to be much more self-reliant. They will need to prepare to manage their own isolation - and have supplies like medication and food.

They are calling for more investment in social welfare to help the most vulnerable prepare.

"If there's one thing we've learnt from Delta it's that once it gets into the most vulnerable that's when we really pay," Prof Reid says.

As Delta rates have been dropping off so too has testing. In the first week of December, 180,000 people took a Covid test. Last week it was 77,000.

But Prof Reid isn't too concerned about undetected spread as there's not been a spike in hospital admissions.

"We're not seeing some of the flow-on effects you would think you'd see if you had lots of undetected Delta in the community."