COVID-19: Deputy Director-General of Health Andrew Old says cases could rise to 11,000 per day


Health officials say COVID-19 case numbers appear to have plateaued but the 'complex mix' of variants could see daily cases hit 11,000 again over the summer.

COVID-19 cases in New Zealand have been rising and yesterday topped 4000 for the first time since August.

Epidemiologist professor Michael Baker told First Up those numbers indicated the country was experiencing its third Omicron wave.

Speaking at Middlemore Hospital today, Deputy Director-General of the Public Health Agency Dr Andrew Old said latest wastewater results supported the trend of stabilising COVID-19 cases that had been seen over the past two weeks.

However, he noted that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 had increased slightly, with 339 people in hospital as of midnight on 13 November, up from 322 a week earlier.

It was "too early to say" whether the current plateau in cases would be sustained, and cases in the past two days had shown some signs of increasing again, he said.

"The outlook for summer, with more people travelling and with the unpredictable mix of variants circulating, at this point remains uncertain."

The complex mix of variants circulating made it "more challenging" to predict what the future shape of the current outbreak may look like, he said, but said health authorities were planning for a possible continued increase in cases and hospitalisations through to the end of the year.

Old said current modelling indicated cases could rise to a peak similar to that seen in July - between 10,000 and 11,000 cases per day.

Hospitalisations and deaths also could also peak at similar levels to what was seen in July.

Old said reinfection rates were also climbing, noting they now accounted for about 20 percent of all reported cases.

Te Whatu Ora interim national medical director Dr Pete Watson said COVID-19 continued to put pressure on the health system.

"The pressures placed upon our work health force have been unprecedented."

"We are training more doctors and nurses," he said.

"In coming months, we will likely continue to see a high prevalence of Covid-19, but we will get through."

Second booster, immunity

Ministry of Health chief science advisor Dr Ian Town said with the number of cases in the community, many people had been exposed to BA.2, BA.4, BA.5 variants, which - in addition to boosters - would help with hybrid immunity.

From 18 November, Māori and Pasifika people aged 40 years and above will be eligible for a second COVID-19 booster. The age of eligibility remains 50 for everyone else.

"Our advice remains the same - get the vaccinations."

The government said earlier this month that it had no plans to launch an annual Covid-19 vaccination booster for the majority of people.

However Minister for COVID-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall said it was looking at multi-variant vaccination, which could be made available to the country's most vulnerable populations by next year 2023, if necessary.

Old said New Zealand remained in a "strong position" to manage the ongoing COVID-19 cases but cautioned: "We're not out of the COVID woods yet".

The ministry would be publishing a "summer checklist" to help people prepare for the summer period and encouraged people to think about how they would manage if they fell ill while on holiday, he said.

He said the ministry had been consistent in its advice around wearing masks.

"There is good evidence that mask use reduces transmission."