Coronavirus: Professor Michael Baker warns COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying

As we near the fourth anniversary of COVID-19's arrival in New Zealand one thing is clear - the virus isn't going anywhere.

Professor Michael Baker says if anything, the pandemic has become more intense in the last few months, with this latest wave larger than the previous one.

Today, face masks are few and far between. We may still be experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, but experts are worried Kiwis are becoming complacent.

"I think it's really old news to be honest," one person told Newshub.

"I'm not super worried about it, it's kind of everyday life," another said.

It's become part of everyday life, unlike previous pandemics that were gone within a year.

"We didn't expect this pandemic to last for four years and if anything it's become more intense in the last three or four months with this fifth wave being bigger than the fourth wave," said Otago Uni Professor of public health Michael Baker.

The virus is also evolving.

"JN.1 is more than 90 percent of cases being detected. We haven't seen that dominance by a subvariant since omicron," he warned.

Prof Baker said in the future we could experience two major waves of COVID-19 each year. And we need to beef up our strategy to deal with them.

"It's getting ahead of our immune system and we need a different way of working," he said.

In the last year, COVID-19 has caused more than 1000 deaths here in New Zealand, and more than 12,000 hospitalisations. With free rapid antigen tests now extended until the end of June, Te Whatu Ora is urging people to have a supply at home and at the ready.

"We need to get on top of this ongoing pandemic. It's not going away, if anything it's getting worse," Prof Baker warned.

Right now Canterbury has the most active cases of COVID-19, with a recorded total of 694.

Earlier this week, Rangiora High School had to close its doors after nearly 40 teachers contracted the virus.

"The big thing is we have a really vulnerable health population, we don't have the health professionals that we have had and that's a scary thing. People need to treat them with respect and not put our small health workforce at risk," said Unichem Cashel pharmacist Annabel Turley.

By isolating if you're unwell, wearing a mask when visiting the doctor and staying up to date with your COVID boosters.