Covid 19 coronavirus: Has Auckland seen the worst of the Omicron outbreak?

There 20,989 new community Covid cases and seven new deaths today.

That is the highest number of daily Covid-related deaths New Zealand has seen since the pandemic came to the country in 2020. Five of the deaths are in Auckland, one is in Waikato and one is in the Southern region.

There are 856 people in hospital, including 20 in intensive care. Ten of those in ICU are in Auckland.

Long Covid was a reason to remain vigilant, said Northern Region Health Coordination Centre’s clinical leads Dr Andrew Old.

Getting Covid is not inevitable and Old urged people to keep up with their health measures, including mask use.

On people wanting to catch Covid and get it over with, Old said it is a mild illness for some but a very severe for others and it is not just about you but others. You could pass it on to someone who is more vulnerable than you.

He said the numbers in Auckland gave rise for “cautious optimism” around having reached a peak but we were “not out of the woods yet”. While we are down from the peak of last week, it’s believed some of that peak was due to the switch to RATs.

High hospitalisations and presentations were continuing to place pressure on the hospital system across the city.

Yesterday, there were 21,015 new community cases and 773 people in hospital. Sixteen people were in ICU or HDU.

The Ministry of Health yesterday said there were now more people in hospital with Covid-19 than at any other point over the last two years.

A tough winter

Old says he wished he could forecast what winter would look like but everything we could do to help minimise the spread of respiratory illness will be very important.

He expected winter to be tough, and it was expected we would have influenza, RSV and possibly some Covid.

Covid-19 vaccination programme clinical director Dr Anthony Jordan said we are fortunate to have high vaccination and booster rates which meant many people had been able to avoid hospital rates and manage their illness at home.

For those who had not yet had their booster, his message was to go and get that done.

For those that had had Covid-19, the current advice was to wait three months for your booster, he said.

Jordan says while some may have built up some immunity by getting the virus, getting the booster would definitely help further in regards to re-infection. (edited)

Boosters and five to eleven-year-olds were still progressing well across the region.

“Naturally, you’re all aware we have a seen a slow down of the vaccination rate and that could be because people had Covid and needed to isolate at home.

“My message today is simple. If you and your whānau are due a vaccination, then please head out and get one.”

Primary care co-clinical lead for whānau HQ Dr Christine McIntosh recognised the incredible efforts of those across the health care sector.

That was on top of these people managing things going on in their own households, McIntosh said.

New tool

Primary care co-clinical lead for whānau HQ Dr Christine McIntosh said a Covid triage tool had been developed.

She stressed teams were not able to call everyone who had Covid but said it was important if you were struggling at home to call Healthline or your GP for support.

She stressed it was important people reached out if their symptoms did get worse. And to call 111 if they got severe with no delay.

Old says since March 1, 2 million RATs has been distributed through community testing sites and collection sites.

More than 500,000 RAT results had been recorded, he said.

The positivity rates for these RATs ranged from 28 per cent for supervised tests at general practice up to about 46 per cent for self-reported samples, which reflected the smaller proportion of negative test results being self-reported.

“We are delighted so many people are taking up the opportunity to manage their testing at home. However, we are hearing many people are still uncertain as to whether they have done the test correctly.”

Sue French, a nurse leader who has been involved in the testing response from the outset, did a demonstration.

'Phenomenal job'

Old says things are very stretched across the DHBs and things were managing on a day to day or shift by shift basis.

There was a lot of pressure at the front door or emergency departments, as well as maternity wards, he said.

At Counties Manukau DHB, public health nurses have stepped up into other roles. Registered nurses and health care assistants have picked up shifts outside their normal roles.

At Waitematā DHB, the legal team had moved to assist the security team while the chief financial officer had delivered meals in wards.

On GP staff absences, McIntosh said across the Auckland region she was hearing there were pressures across some practices, including the pressures of cases and impacts on a practice’s workforce.

They were actively working with primary care and doing what they could to support them but indeed it was “pretty stretched…and the crunch is on”.

She said the “business as usual” things done in primary care are all very important and individual practices were making decisions around what the priority was at this point in time.

McIntosh says Omicron for most was mild illness and for some it was a very serious illness and the success of a Covid care in the community programme was that everyone was supported and people who needed to get to hospital got there.

“We are very focused on our goal on making sure people get the care that they need.”

McIntosh recognised the incredible efforts of those across the health care sector.

That was on top of these people managing things going on in their own households, McIntosh said.

“We know it’s pretty tough about there. We know you are doing a phenomenal job… I just really want to recognise that it is the work of all the health sector that is contributing at the moment… across Aotearoa.”

“Our whānau HQ home isolation teams… are working extremely hard to manage the large number of people with Covid-19 and their households who are in isolation.”

Isolation cut down

From midnight tonight, the isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts will be reduced from 10 to seven days.

The reduction in the case isolation time was based on evidence from overseas that a relatively small people who have Covid will still be infectious at seven days, Old said.

He was confident that the reduction would not see a significant increase in cases.

In announcing the change Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said as case numbers increased, larger numbers of people needed to isolate and the reduced isolation time was because of high case numbers and wider impacts.

“There needs to be a balance between effectively controlling the outbreak and the flow-on effect for business and essential goods and services such as transport and food supply,” he said.

“The most up-to-date public health advice is that there is a decline in infectiousness of Omicron over time, and that in most cases transmission occurs within seven days.

“Seven days isolation will break the vast majority of potential transmissions, while ensuring people can get back to work quicker and therefore reducing the impact on business operations.”

Household contacts would need to have a rapid antigen test at day 3 and day 7 of their isolation period.

If they become symptomatic they should also get a test, and if the result was positive, they would need to reset their week-long isolation period from that point.

Hospitalisations lagged behind

Canterbury University Professor Michael Plank said with 7234 cases in Auckland reported yesterday the region may have reached its peak as the rolling average of cases per 100,000 people had fallen from almost 700 to just over 600.

Plank said it was likely Auckland had hit peak cases but as hospitalisations lagged behind it was possible the city’s hospital figures could continue to increase or remain flat for a while yet.

“It could be another week or two before we start to see them come down.”

Nationally, modelling indicated the most likely scenario was hospitalisations peaking at somewhere around 1000, he said. “It still looks roughly on trajectory for that as a national peak.”

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker also said looking at the latest numbers, it appeared cases in Auckland had peaked.

The virus outbreak continues to cause disruption across Auckland with Auckland Transport confirming it has cancelled about 2000 services a day because of staff shortages.

About 400 employees were unable to work because they either had Covid-19 or were household contacts.

Today Fullers360 cancelled over 70 ferry sailings across Auckland’s harbour due to too many staff having Covid.

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