Health Minister Dr. Ashley Bloomfield hosts a media briefing.
Today there are 5554 new cases of Covid-19 in the community, says the Ministry of Health.
The ministry also reports 11 virus-related deaths and 368 people hospitalized, including seven in intensive care.
Of today’s deaths, two were in their 60s, five in their 70s, one in their 80s and three in their 90s.
The average age of patients in the northern regional hospitals is 61 years.
Today’s community falls are in Northland (138), Auckland (1659), Waikato (372), Bay of Plenty (194), Lakes (76), Hawke’s Bay (179), MidCentral (223), Whanganui (54), Taranaki ( 188), Tairāwhiti (46), Wairarapa (71), Capital and Coast (506), Hutt Valley (219), Nelson Marlborough (227), Canterbury (839), South Canterbury (76), Southern (442), West Coast (40), Unknown (5).
There are also 70 new imported borderline cases.
The ministry says they have planned a challenging winter.
“Covid-19 continues to circulate in the community and we have also started to see the impact of winter respiratory illnesses like the flu putting additional strain on our healthcare system.”
“[We] are working with our regional colleagues to manage capacity and demand, prioritize urgent supplies and provide as many planned supplies as possible.”
“We need everyone who does their part to ensure that we get through the winter.”
The seven-day moving average of community cases is 5777 today – down from 6035 last Wednesday.
The ministry is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated against four strains of the virus and the need for hospitalization for flu this year.
There have been 1,248,298 cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand since the pandemic began.
There are currently 40,365 active cases in the community.
The deaths reported today bring the total number of publicly reported deaths related to Covid-19 to 1359.
The seven-day rolling average of reported deaths is 13.
increase in reinfection
Auckland’s Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust sees families being re-infected with Covid-19 for a third time – leading to a renewed appeal for people to be vigilant this winter.
Yesterday there were 6133 new cases in the community, 377 hospitalizations and 23 deaths.
With the colder season now underway, West Auckland Community Service clinical director Ngaire Harris said some households were now dealing with “multiple” infections with Covid-19: including the second catch of Omicron.
Worryingly, these families often failed to report positive results to the Ministry of Health.
Communities the Trust worked with were among those affected by last year’s delta eruption – and were also among the first to be affected by the Omicron wave that erupted in Auckland in late summer.
A disproportionate number of coronavirus-related deaths were Māori and Pasifika, who were much more likely to require hospital-level treatment for Covid-19, even after accounting for age and underlying medical conditions.
“That’s always a concern because you don’t want your Tamariki or your Kuia and your elders to suffer,” Harris said of the higher risk.
In addition, the return of influenza had begun to take its toll.
“The message we’re trying to convey is Whānau well-being — stay healthy and stay healthy,” she said.
“We’re learning to live with it [Covid-19] – and whānau are really taking care of their health now and are more aware of the symptoms.”
The extent of reinfection in New Zealand is unknown as the Department of Health does not report this specific information, but a new system to collect the data has been developed.
There was evidence that reinfections within 90 days of a previous infection were unlikely and those who contracted the virus again had to follow home isolation rules.
“Reinfection does not generally cause serious illness in most people, but a diagnosis of reinfection with Covid-19 may be important for the elderly, those with high-risk illnesses, or people who frequently have close contact with people at risk,” the statement reads the guidelines of the Ministry .
A recent newspaper, Covid Modeling Aotearoa, noted that a second wave could arrive in the second half of the year, in part because people are becoming re-infected because their immunity has waned.
It was estimated that the wave peaked with fewer daily cases than the first wave, as well as fewer hospital admissions – unless infections were widespread among those at higher risk, such as the elderly.
In this scenario, up to 46 percent of cases had already been treated with Omicron earlier in the year.
One of the modelers behind this work, Professor Michael Plank, told the Herald that the arrival of new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in New Zealand could allow the second wave to launch sooner rather than later.
Otago University virologist Dr. Jemma Geoghegan said reports of reinfections across Auckland are not surprising given that the region’s omicron wave peaked about three months ago and immunity to vaccination and infection is known to wane over time.
“One of the knowledge gaps we have right now is our very low level of genomic surveillance: although we sequence a good chunk, it’s still probably less than two percent of the cases.”
Ideally, she said, people who now become reinfected would be referred for PCR testing so officers could learn more about what drives them.
The BA.2 subvariant was responsible for almost all of the sequenced cases at the moment, so it was likely that many of the people who were reinfected were suffering from it a second time unless they had the BA.1 type.
But having a clearer picture became increasingly important as new variants emerged, Geoghegan said.
Local cases of BA.4 and BA.5 – which have been shown to be more effective in causing breakthrough infections in vaccinated and boosted individuals – are likely to number in the thousands here now.
“So it’s clear they’ve gained a foothold in the community – but we lack the granular monitoring we need to know the true extent.”
Knowing more about what causes reinfections would also help scientists know what treatments might be used or how and if further booster shots should be offered.
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said what the Trust reported was consistent with the international situation.
“In general, after a certain point, reinfection becomes the norm, as reinfection rates inevitably increase as more people become infected,” he said.
“People who got infected earlier will also be mostly younger and more socially active, so they’ll also be at the forefront of people getting infected again.”
Baker urged people to continue to follow important health measures like using masks and making sure they are vaccinated and boosted.
It’s also crucial that people report their infections and self-isolate with household contacts for at least seven days, he said.
“If we did this perfectly, the pandemic would stop.”
The Director General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said the overall downward trend in case numbers was “encouraging” – but still double the number of infections than modeling had predicted.
Also, only about two-thirds of the country’s infections would likely be identified.
Cases were increasing in people over 65, who were more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus, and rollouts of a fourth Covid vaccine for those most at risk would begin shortly, Bloomfield said.