COVID-19 Omicron outbreak: New Zealand passes United States, Britain and European Union all-time per capita case peaks

New Zealand has passed the all-time per capita COVID-19 case peaks of the United States, Britain and the European Union as Omicron sweeps across the nation. 

But in terms of COVID-related deaths, New Zealand pales in comparison. The information is available on the Financial Times' handy coronavirus tracker, which enables you to compare data collected from across the globe. 

The Government kept New Zealand pretty much locked away from the world for two years as the pandemic wreaked havoc. But as Kiwis took up vaccination in high numbers - more than 95 percent of the eligible population is double-dosed - and the more infectious Omicron variant emerged, the 'stamp-it-out strategy' was dropped. 

Kiwis are now living with COVID-19 in big numbers. More than 23,000 new cases were registered on Thursday, after more than 22,000 on Wednesday. But Kiwis are also highly boosted: 72 percent of the eligible population have had a third dose, which is said to reduce the likelihood of contracting Omicron by 67 percent

Omicron could never be kept at bay and the Government accepted it but tried to give the population time to get boosted. New Zealand is now experiencing its first major peak, which is to be expected as Kiwis haven't had the same level of exposure as other countries. 

The Financial Times' data shows that on March 2, New Zealand had 338.9 average cases per 100,000 people, compared to the EU's peak on January 27 of 282.4, the UK's peak on January 5 of 272.9, and the US' peak on January 13 of 239. 

New Zealand now has the highest per capita peak of cases compared to the US, UK and EU. But not when it comes to deaths. 

During the Delta outbreak in 2021, the UK's per capita death rate peaked on January 23 at 1.86 average deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the US' peak on January 7 last year of 1.06 deaths per 100,000 people. 

New Zealand hardly even makes a dent. The highest it reached was 0.3 deaths per 100,000 people in April 2020 when the pandemic first began. In terms of COVID deaths per million, New Zealand has had 11.39 compared to the UK's 2410.88. 

COVID-19 Omicron outbreak: New Zealand passes United States, Britain and European Union all-time per capita case peaks
Photo credit: Financial Times
COVID-19 Omicron outbreak: New Zealand passes United States, Britain and European Union all-time per capita case peaks
Photo credit: Financial Times

But so much COVID in the community is a major change for New Zealand's health services, who are already stretched with 10,000 allied health workers this week threatening strike action over feeling "overworked and undervalued for too long". 

"With the high number of cases around the country, it's inevitable that our health workforce is impacted and a number of them are either cases or household contacts or caring for cases," Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Thursday. 

"The volume fluctuates on a daily basis and this is particularly an issue during winter so we are used to dealing with it. They manage staffing through the day to ensure essential services continue to be available for everybody."

He said from the period of February 21 to 27, just over 1 percent of the New Zealand population were active COVID cases. There are currently more than 146,500 active cases.

"Of the 345 people in hospital in the northern region where we have the best data, just 21 percent are under 30 while 60 percent are over age 50," Dr Bloomfield said. 

"In terms of our hospitalisation rate, the way we're calculating this at the moment is the number of people in hospital over the number of current cases which are those who have been diagnosed in the last 21 days. At the moment, that rate is just 3.5 per thousand active cases. 

"However, as we've seen in other countries, hospitalisations lag a week to 10 days behind case numbers so we're expecting both the number and the rate to increase over the next couple of weeks."

As of 2pm on Wednesday, 11 percent of the total number of people in hospital in the Auckland region were there with COVID, Dr Bloomfield said, "so about one-in-10 people in hospital and that includes people who are in the emergency departments". 

In terms of booster doses, nearly 18,000 were administered on Wednesday but there are still 938,000 eligible people who have not taken it up - about 28 percent.

Bloomfield said about 51 percent of children aged five to 11 have had one dose of the paediatric vaccine. 

Rapid antigen tests are now the most common method of identifying cases. Of Wednesday's more than 22,000 cases, 85 percent were self-reported with rapid antigen tests.

A further 3.6 million rapid antigen tests arrived on Wednesday and there are just over 100 million on order between now and the end of March. 

Primary Care Lead Dr Joe Bourne said on Thursday 99 percent of people with COVID-19 in New Zealand are isolating safely at home in the community.