Coronavirus: Testing reveals spike in COVID-19 infections during holidays

Wastewater testing has revealed a spike in COVID-19 infections during the holidays after cases peaked just before Christmas.

Australia's not immune either with the highest number of hospital admissions in a year as a new variant takes hold.

As the clock counted down to New Year's celebrations in Matakana, time was almost up for partygoer Pierce Sheridan's immunity to the latest COVID-19 sub-variant, JN.1.

"Unfortunately with summer, everyone sort of goes out partying, and you're in close proximity to lots of random people," Sheridan told Newshub.

Wet weather had forced festival-goers into a marquee for New Year's Eve celebrations at Highlife, and that's where Sheridan thinks he caught his latest dose of the virus.

"I think I passed it on to a few of my mates, unfortunately. But yeah I just messaged them as soon as I tested positive," he said

New Zealand is in the middle of a fifth COVID-19 wave. The JN.1 variant is understood to spread faster than its Omicron counterpart, and it's driven the highest infection rates we've seen here in a year.

"It's very good at getting past your existing immunity, so it's infecting a lot more people. There's no evidence that it's more severe than its Omicron sub-variants, so that's the good news," said Otago University public health Professor Michael Baker.

But the bad news is it's not just the over-75s who are at the most risk.

"Each time you get it, it's adding to your risk of long COVID and we do know that a lot of New Zealanders now are getting permanently disabled from this virus," Prof Baker warned.

It's the same across the Tasman, where JN.1 is sweeping through Sydney. And it's not only COVID-19 cases but flu and respiratory illness that's clogging up the United States' health system - being dubbed a 'tri-demic'.

"Potentially that could happen in the middle of the year but at the moment we're seeing the power of this emerging infection that can cause waves of infection in any season," Prof Baker said.

Whether the World Health Organisation will recognise this new strain with a new Greek letter, perhaps Pi, is yet to be seen. Some say differentiating from Omicron may help with the increased complacency amongst the public.

"For the most part, people are staying home, they're not going out and deliberately spreading it around, but I think people are sick and tired of it re-circulating," Sheridan said.

Vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself from starting the new year with a new variant.