COVID-19 rife among youths as Omicron spreads throughout New Zealand

COVID is rife among those in their teens and twenties, making up half of all cases.

"It probably doesn't surprise me since we're having to be at school at the moment," said one teenager queuing for a rapid antigen test.

"I think everyone's over it and we're seeing how big the cases are getting and I think the mindset is everyone's going to get it," said another man in his twenties.

Auckland University COVID modeller Dion O'Neale says it's what you expect in the early stages of an outbreak.

"Younger people, much more mobile and tending to go out a lot more and also tending to get symptoms at lower rates and so less likely to be tested, less likely to know they're infected, less likely to be isolating," Dr O'Neale says.

But he warns the risks are still high and we shouldn't be complacent, even if isolation rules have relaxed under phase 3.

"New Zealand is currently one of the most permissive countries in terms of what we can do with an Omicron wave," he says.

"The Government is putting its head in the sand… I guess the Government messaging makes people inclined to put their heads in the sand as well."

But he says that doesn't mean we should stop taking precautions, like mask-wearing, distancing and isolating.

"There's a good chance we will all be exposed to COVID but that doesn't mean that we all have to catch COVID."

Despite being milder, Omicron remains a risk to older people and those with other health conditions.

While Delta hospitalisations peaked at 93, with Omicron we're now seeing three times that - with 305 currently in hospital.

With almost 15,000 cases today, the latest modelling shows daily cases could peak as soon as early to mid-March. What we don't know is how many.

"Bad estimates could be up in the forties - 40,000 - hopefully it's in the high tens or low twenties."

And if we peak earlier, it could mean the Government lifts vaccine mandates and passes sooner.

"Once we've seen that peak and come down and seen our hospitalisations stable and we know that it's safe," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newshub Nation.

Boosters are hoped to help keep hospitalisations down. The latest figures show 70 percent of eligible Kiwis have now had their booster.