COVID-19 researcher warns case numbers could reach 25,000 a day, put New Zealand back in red

COVID-19 researchers are warning that the next Omicron wave has arrived and we could reach 25,000 cases a day - which could mean a return to the red traffic light setting.

The seven-day rolling average of community cases has risen by more than 2000 in just a week.

With winter now here, another wave of COVID-19 has arrived.

"We've got a very clear signal from all the data we are looking at that we're seeing the beginning of another big wave," epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said.

This is thanks to the new Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

"These new variants all around the world now are starting to rise and they're evading the protection we do have, that's how they are thriving," he said.

With BA.5 cases doubling every week, COVID-19 modeller David Welch is predicting a major rise - and it's hitting earlier than forecast.

"We might see case numbers up around the 20,000s again. Last time we got to 25,000 and we could easily see those numbers again," Welch said.

These are numbers that could send us back into the red traffic light setting.

"Last time we were in red we had over 10,000 cases a day," COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said on Thursday.

If cases climb rapidly, more restrictions are likely.

"People should be prepared to go into a higher alert level setting just to take the peak off this wave," Welch said.

But going into red doesn't sit well with Kiwis.

"I'm so over it," one person said.

"I still wear a mask and stuff, but going to red, nah don't think so," another added.

"Nah I don't think so, I think we just let it play its course," a third person said.

Lucky for them, the Government has just reviewed its traffic light settings and confirmed that orange is here to stay for now. But that can quickly change since these new variants are wreaking havoc on pandemic predictions.

"I don't like bearing bad news, but unfortunately things are looking tougher than what we expected just a few months ago," Prof Baker said.

He's urging Kiwis to mask up whenever they're indoors with other people and to isolate if they have any symptoms.