Coronavirus: New COVID-19 variant BA.2.75 dominates New Zealand's cases, could evade immunity


There is a new dominant COVID-19 variant for the first time since July, as health officials warn holidaymakers to take precautions.

In an update today, the Ministry of Health said there were 42,740 new cases of COVID-19 and 64 deaths of people with the virus over the past week.

BA.2.75, which is a strain of Omicron, now makes up 39 percent of genetically sequenced cases, and more than half of the cases in wastewater samples.

It has surpassed BA.5 which was the main variant for five-and-a-half months and drove the second wave in winter.

The ministry said BA.2.75 looked like it was more transmissible and could evade immunity from other variants but more data was needed to be certain.

There is no sign it is causes a more dangerous or severe illness.

The government is urging people to be prepared in case they catch COVID-19 while on holiday.

Healthcare professionals in holiday hotspots are bracing for an influx of COVID-19 patients, with one modeller warning Christmas week could see one-in-20 people infected.

COVID-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall said people who were eligible for a booster should get one.

She was also reminding people if they tested positive, they had to isolate for seven days.

It was important everyone played their part, she said.

What to do if you test positive while travelling

Te Whatu Ora interim national medical director Dr Pete Watson urged everyone to take precautions to protect themselves ahead of the holiday season.

"Over summer, large numbers of people will be travelling for trips or seasonal work. There are more social gatherings and large events, such as festivals, and many of our health care workers will be taking well-deserved leave," Watson said.

"We need to continue our good health behaviours to ensure we can not only protect ourselves and each other, but help reduce pressure on health providers, urgent care clinics and hospital emergency departments."

Health New Zealand, Te Whatu Ora, has provided a checklist for holidaymakers on staying safe over the summer break.

Health officials say if you test positive while you are away from home and you are well enough to drive back home, you can, but only if you can travel via a private or work vehicle with only your immediate family or household members.

"If that isn't possible for whatever reason, you need to be able to isolate where you are or find somewhere else to isolate," Watson said.

"If you don't have any RATs, consider collecting some now or ordering them in advance of any Christmas and New Year's holiday travel you have planned, so you're well prepared."

People who contract COVID-19 on holiday should consider antiviral medication, which was free for those who were eligible, Watson said.

"Antiviral medicines can help you if you're at risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19. They reduce the amount of virus in your body, so you don't get as sick and you're less likely to go to hospital."

Many pharmacies provide antivirals without a prescription, or healthcare providers can write a prescription for a pharmacy to fill. COVID-19 antiviral medicines are free for eligible people.

Free rapid antigen tests (RATs) can be taken from a range of locations, including collection sites, some marae and some pharmacies.

Free masks and RATs can be ordered here.

Current face mask mandates for visitors in healthcare settings also remain in place.

Watson also reminded people to save the Healthline number (0800 358 5453) or the Disability health helpline (0800 11 12 13) into their phone for general health and COVID-related health advice.