Te Whatu Ora is urging high-risk people to protect themselves against the latest wave of COVID-19 sweeping the country.
Director of Public Health Dr Nick Jones says wastewater results, case counts and deaths suggest New Zealand is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
More than 5800 confirmed cases were confirmed this week and more than 200 people are in hospital with the virus, five in intensive care.
In the week to 5 November, another 19 people died with COVID-19, taking the total number of deaths to 3464.
Dr Jones said new waves of the virus tend to happen every six months, and the current one was likely to be driven by waning immunity and the ongoing evolution of the virus.
He said at-risk people should make sure they are up to date with their COVID-19 boosters and use antiviral medications early if they catch the virus.
He said the assumption that COVID-19 was associated with winter was not necessarily correct.
"I don't think the evidence is there to support that. We seem to be seeing upticks in cases probably every six months or so, and it's probably driven by the waning of immunity over time and the gradual evolution of the virus which continues to change over time.
"So, while I agree that a lot of these respiratory illnesses tend to be more common in the winter when we're indoors, these other factors I think are leading to regular waves of the disease."
Free masks and rapid antigen tests (RAT) were still available from participating pharmacies and RAT collection sites. Dr Jones said when picking up masks, people should talk to staff about whether a medical or a P2/N95 type was the best option for them.
Te Whatu Ora said the people most likely to benefit from another COVID-19 booster included:
- anyone aged 75 and older
- Māori and Pacific people aged 65 and older
- people aged 30 to 74 with significant complex health needs
- people aged 16 and older who were severely immunocompromised.
- Antivirals were free for those who met the criteria. This included:
- all people over the age of 65
- Māori and Pacific people over the age of 50
- people with compromised immune systems
- those with long-term health conditions.
Jones said the above steps could help protect the most vulnerable people in the community over the holiday season.