Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: 15,161 community cases, one death, 618 in hospital today

There are 15,161 new community cases of Covid-19 today, 618 people are in hospital and one person has died with Covid.

The Ministry of Health said the person died at Auckland Hospital.

“The person had unrelated medical conditions and had tested positive for Covid-19.”

Of the 618 people in hospital, 10 are in intensive care.

The ministry said the decrease in cases today can be seen as encouraging, but urged caution, saying the rolling average of case numbers is a more reliable indicator.

The seven-day rolling average of cases is 17,272, up from 16,687 on Saturday.

The new community cases are in Northland (382), Auckland (7226), Waikato (1,334), Bay of Plenty (937), Lakes (434), Hawke’s Bay (336), MidCentral (378), Whanganui (59), Taranaki (239), Tairāwhiti (166), Wairarapa (85), Capital and Coast (1,161), Hutt Valley (648), Nelson Marlborough (233), Canterbury (1,019), South Canterbury (52), Southern (444), West Coast (17). The DHB of 11 cases is unknown.

By today’s figures, 3.5% of New Zealand’s population are active community cases. The actual incidence of Covid-19 is likely to be significantly higher.

Covid-19-related hospitalisations continued to increase, and were “significantly greater” than those seen during last year’s Delta outbreak, the ministry said.

The 618 people in hospital are in Northland (10), North Shore (117), Middlemore (184), Auckland (167), Waikato (49), Bay of Plenty (16), Rotorua (8), Tairawhiti (2), Hawke’s Bay (6), Taranaki (6), MidCentral (10), Wairarapa (2), Hutt Valley (2), Capital and Coast (20), Nelson Marlborough (2), Canterbury (13), and Southern (4).

The average age of people in hospital is 55.

There were 544 people in hospital on Thursday – six times the peak of the Delta outbreak.

“The number of cases in hospital is currently expected to peak in the second half of this month,” officials said today.

“The Omicron variant means people who are hospitalised are more likely to have a shorter stay and less likely to be admitted to ICU or require oxygen or ventilation support.”

The ministry said while it was still early in the Omicron outbreak, based on available data unvaccinated people were four times over-represented in hospital.

Just three percent of eligible people aged 12 and over in New Zealand were unvaccinated, yet they made up 13 per cent of people in hospital in Northland and Auckland.

Of those in Northern region hospitals, 18 per cent are unvaccinated, 2.5 per cent are partly immunised, 40 per cent are double-vaxxed and 22 per cent are boosted.

The vaccination status of the others is unknown.

Yesterday, 14,666 people got a booster, putting the eligible population’s booster rate at 72.4 per cent.

Only 60.1 per cent of eligible Māori and 59.6 per cent of eligible Pacific people have had their booster.

Among 5- to 11-year-olds, 2009 got their first dose and 550 their second, with 52.3 per cent of this group having had their first dose. Just 32.7 per cent of Māori tamariki in this age group have had their first dose, and 44.9 per cent of Pacific children.

Most cases still in Auckland

In the week to March 3, most new cases – 61 per cent – were in Auckland.

Of all cases that week, 39 per cent were in New Zealand Europeans, followed by Pacific people at 26 per cent.

However, rates of infection were highest for Pacific people, at 7510 cases per 100,000 people. They were followed by Māori (2465 per 100,000) and Asian (2234 per 100,000) with the lowest rate among New Zealand Europeans (1322 per 100,000).

The ministry thanked people for reporting the results of their RAT tests, with more than 40,000 reported in the past 24 hours, of which 14,618 were positive.

Another 547 confirmed cases were determined through PCR testing.

Despite the drop in cases, public health officials still believe the decrease could be related to delays in people self-reporting the results of their RATs, even if negative.

It was essential to have as much information as possible to inform decision-making, the ministry said.

“If you take a Rapid Antigen Test, report the result online through my COVID Record. Instructions for self-reporting RAT results can be found on the Unite Against COVID website.”

Long waits acknowledged

The ministry has acknowledged long waits to report RAT results over the phone, after urging the public to record their results yesterday.

The ministry said they believed the decline could be due to people failing to report their results from RATs, whether positive or negative.

Currently only people above the age of 12 can report through My Covid Record, while parents and caregivers are asked to report young children’s positive results by calling 0800 222 478.

An Auckland woman who contacted the Herald said it had taken several days to record her six-year-old daughter’s positive result.

She said she had managed to record her 12-year-old son’s positive RAT result online, but had needed to phone to record the positive result of her younger child.

She called and left her number two days in a row, before calling again on the third day and waiting on hold until someone answered.

“The woman sounded very stressed. They are dealing with a big volume I understand,” she said.

A ministry spokesperson told the Herald today there had been delays in reporting over the phone.

“The Ministry of Health acknowledges there have been some waits for people who have called the 0800 number to report their Rapid Antigen Test results during a period of high demand.”

Staffing across the shifts has now been increased to match the call demand of the RATs 0800 number, said the spokesperson.

“Other ministry-contracted call centres have been provided with training and access to assist with responses to requests for RATs and recording results.

“This will help reduce the time people have to wait to speak to operator.

“We want to acknowledge and thank people for reporting their RATs results, negative or positive, which helps support public health decision making in response to the pandemic.”

High demand for RATs

There was high demand for RATs but there was also good supply, the ministry said.

Yesterday, 34,000 orders for RATs were placed through the RAT requester site.

Anyone who had symptoms or was a household contact could order RATs through the site and collect them from a collection site listed on Healthpoint.

Another 3.5 million RATs were being sent to collection sites around the country today and a total of 8 million were arriving in New Zealand over this weekend.

“With tens of thousands of people collecting RATs from testing centres and collection sites, our request is to, please, be patient and kind to each other and staff.”

People were also asked not to order or request RATs unless they were unwell or a household contact. International travel pre-departure testing was not covered under the public health response.

“If you are well, you can still purchase RATs from one of a growing number of retailers which stock them.”

The ministry also reminded people to stock up on supplies and organise logistics like food and medication drop-offs with family ahead of time, before Omicron arrived in their household.

Yesterday's numbers

Yesterday there were five more deaths and 18,833 new community cases of Covid-19 detected, down from several days above 20,000.

The greatest drop was in Auckland, where there were 9789 cases reported on Saturday, down from 13,252 on Friday and 13,237 on Thursday.

That’s led to some suggestions that the peak could be over for Auckland.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker told the Herald he was “cautiously optimistic” cases could be falling in the city.

But he said it would be “many, many weeks” before measures preventing virus transmission should be relaxed.

The University of Otago professor of public health said several days would be needed to see if the trend was confirmed.

“If it’s continuing by Tuesday it’d be a fairly reasonable view to say numbers have peaked in Auckland.”

That mattered because Auckland’s outbreak was thought to be one to three weeks ahead of the rest of the country.

Baker said hospitalisations lagged about 10 days behind cases, so if there was a drop in Auckland’s hospitalisations in 10 days’ time that would show the city had turned the corner.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, meanwhile, believes the real number of daily infections in New Zealand could be closer to 100,000 than the 20,000 being reported daily.

When vaccine mandates start to end will largely depend on when New Zealand’s Omicron outbreak starts to wane, he told TVNZ’s Q&A this morning.

Hipkins said the mandates would remain in place only for as long as they could be “absolutely justified”.

And the ministry has warned the drop could be because of fewer people logging their rapid antigen test results.

Most tests for Covid-19 are now done using RATs, and people are generally expected to upload the result themselves.

One tradie in Auckland told the Herald he knew about 25 people with Covid-19 and none of them had officially recorded their case with the Ministry of Health.

The ministry is asking people to register both positive and negative RATs. Information on how to do so is available on the Unite against Covid-19 website.

Epidemiologist Dr Rod Jackson told the Herald earlier this week he cringes when he sees cases hovering at around 23,000 each day, as some modelling had shown there could be four times as many cases.

Most Omicron cases so far have been in younger people, but Jackson said the crunch would come when it spread more amongst the elderly population who are at higher risk.

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