COVID-19: Why the elderly and vulnerable are more at-risk than ever despite Omicron cases falling from their peak

Health experts are warning that as New Zealand's Omicron peak passes, the risk increases for the vulnerable and elderly.

While Auckland may be past the peak, health officials are concerned the virus will have a sting in its long tail with an increasing number of older people severely ill with COVID-19.

"We're seeing more medically vulnerable patients in the ED, and often it's the underlying medical conditions of these patients which are having the greatest impact and need for hospitalisation," says Dr Vanessa Thornton.

Out of 400 patients with COVID, a third were admitted because of the virus, while a further third had COVID as a secondary finding.

Vaccinations still remain the best defence.

"With half our population now boosted, people who are boosted make up just 11 percent of hospital admissions," says Dr Andrew Old.

Dr Thornton warns that the unvaccinated are at a greater risk.

"COVID seeks and finds the unvaccinated so please continue to get your vaccinations."

Hospitalisations remain high, but there's encouraging news in Auckland.

"With cases declining and new admissions plateauing we're hopeful that hospitalisations too may turn a corner over the next week," says Dr Old.

But deaths could still be three or four weeks from peaking.

"There still will be a significant number of deaths to come as a result of this outbreak because deaths lag behind cases even more than hospitalisations," says Professor Michael Plank.

It's something to bear in mind as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern considers easing restrictions.

"We will be looking at everything from mandates to vaccine passes, which we don't believe will need to be used as widely anymore," she says.

"We'll also be looking at all of the settings within the traffic lights, so we'll be making those decisions in the coming week."

Which could mean a return to sports stadiums.

"Outdoor venues are a much lower risk than indoor venues, at the moment the red settings do put a limit on the number who can attend outdoor events but that's one of the things of course that might be quick to change," says Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

But there's a warning before you get too comfortable.

"When you peak, you're at the top of the mountain and you've still got to come down the other side, so really we're only halfway there," says Prof Plank.

And just as many if not more could still get infected with Omicron on the way back down.

It comes as 10 more people with COVID-19 have died, including one person in their 30s. It brings the total death toll since the pandemic began to 151.

A total 19,566 further COVID-19 cases were also reported on Thursday and 930 people are in hospital with the virus.