Michael Baker warns fifth COVID-19 wave could last for months thanks to new variant JN.1

The fifth COVID-19 wave could last for many more months according to some medical officials.

It comes as confirmed cases and hospitalisations continue to steadily rise and a new fast-spreading variant begins to gain traction.

The latest COVID-19 figures from Te Whatu Ora show the average number of daily cases is 1097 - up 3.5 percent from last week.

This month has seen a rise in hospitalisations with 343 admitted with the infection on Thursday.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker isn't surprised numbers are rising.

"I'm not surprised because we're in the middle of this fifth wave of infection and we have seen the arrival of another sub-variant JN.1," Prof Baker said.

JN.1 is a sub-variant of Omicron that has quickly become the most common strain of the virus across countries like the United States.

With similar results expected here, Prof Baker believes we are at least two months away from the end of this latest wave.

"The main reason it's thriving is it's better at escaping our immunity because it's quite different from the viruses we have encountered before," Prof Baker said.

MedSafe has recently approved a new vaccine to target emerging COVID-19 strains, however, it won't arrive in New Zealand until winter next year.

In the meantime, vaccinologists said staying up to date with our current vaccines and boosters is still the best way to slow the spread of the virus.

"They minimise the risk of severe disease they also reduce infection, so being in the vaccinated camp is the best camp to be in," vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said.

Prof Baker agrees and urges those who haven't kept up to date to think of our most vulnerable.

"The people who are most affected by this are of course older people with underlying health conditions. They are the ones who are unfortunately going to hospital and dying every week," he said.

With New Year's Eve celebrations just around the corner, Te Whatu Ora said it is also vital Kiwis stay home and test if they feel unwell.