Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: Today’s case numbers revealed as hospitals continue to grapple with staff shortages

There are 18,423 new Covid cases today and 11 new deaths to report with 913 people in hospital.

Twenty-eight people are in intensive care units. In a statement, the Ministry of Health said today’s deaths take the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 to 221 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 10.

Of the 11 deaths,two people are from the Auckland region, two are from Bay of Plenty, six are from Waikato, and one is from the Wellington region. Six were men and five were women.

Bloomfield says today’s case numbers were quite a drop from yesterday.

He passed on his condolences to those families, whānau and friends of those Covid-related deaths reported today.

The Ministry urged people to continue to get vaccinated against the virus.

“Every hospitalisation is a reminder of the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent severe illness from Covid-19. There is a much lower risk of being hospitalised if you are up to date with your vaccinations, which for Omicron includes a third or booster dose,” said the ministry.

Bloomfield said the uptake of vaccinations has been “as high as I might have aspired to and higher than I might have expected”.

He said regarding vaccine hesitancy, monthly surveys had been occurring since late 2020 and they had been monitored throughout.

Specifically, with the vaccination for children, parents and guardians do have specific issues around safety that they are wanting to make sure of.

This explained the slower uptake around tamariki, he said.

“I think what we have done is turn vaccine hesitancy into high vaccination rates, he said. We have learnt a lot and given what we were facing, the levels of vaccine uptake was remarkable.”

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 across the country are:Northland: 22; North Shore: 148; Middlemore: 207; Auckland: 159; Waikato: 82; Bay of Plenty: 39; Lakes: 16; Tairāwhiti: 4, Hawke’s Bay: 40; Taranaki: 16; Whanganui: 3; MidCentral: 23; Hutt Valley: 17; Capital and Coast: 43; Wairarapa: 7; Nelson Marlborough: 11; Canterbury: 51; South Canterbury: 3; Southern: 22

There are now 118,631 active Covid cases in the community, with Māori having the highest rate at 35 cases per 1000 people.

That is followed by the Pacific rate, which is 28 per 1000. Pacific was once the highest but that had now dropped, Bloomfield said in a press conference on Thursday.

Bloomfield said in the seven days to March 20, across all ethnicities, there were 24 new cases per 1000 people in the country, compared with 27 per 1000 the week before – but the pattern varied across the country.

The two DHBs with the highest rates at the moment were Tairāwhiti (44 per thousand) and Hawke’s Bay (38 per thousand).

It was also clear case numbers were increasing, particularly in the South Island, Bloomfield said.

In the week to March 20, there had been decrease in the number of cases among Māori reported nationally but an increase in the number of Māori hospitalised.

There were just over 27,000 cases as opposed to around 30,500 cases the week prior. However, hospitalisations over this period had grown – 232 people were hospitalised in the week to March 20 versus 202 the week prior.

Bloomfield noted the expected lag in hospitalisations after case infections.

Tairāwhiti had the highest case numbers among Māori – around 112 cases per thousand. The next highest was the Hutt Valley DHB followed by the Hawke’s Bay and Bay of Plenty.

Most other DHBS around the country were showing an increase in case numbers for Māori, particularly in DHBs with large rural areas and high cases numbers were seen among tamariki and rangatahi, he said.

“That will represent a lot of work for whānau, for iwi and communities there, and Māori providers there so I want to say a huge thank you to the Māori health and disability providers across the motu [who are] working hard. They will also have staff down, affected the disease or whānau members with the disease.”

Deputy director general of Māori Health John Whaanga said the Covid-19 Māori Protection Plan released last December was focused on two key outcomes which were central to their work.

Those were increasing vaccination rates for Māori and building the resilience of Māori health providers to be able to respond to Covid-19. He added the implementation of the plan is well under way.

He thanked Māori health providers and iwi partners, who had led much of the Omicron response work.

“Thank you for your resilience throughout our response. Thank you for your innovation in the way you delivery services to our Māori communities. And thank you for your commitment to the continued protection of Aotearoa. You have been central to our response since the first outbreak and we would not have been able to achieve these gains we have made so far without your outstanding mahi.”

For the Māori vaccine roll out, a holistic booster advertising campaign was under way and Māori health providers and DHBs had partnered to delivery “sprint” strategies.

He said there had been sprint events and drive through vaccination events in New Zealand while several clinics had been held in rural communities to increase vaccination uptake.

So far, 54 hubs have been set up and the majority were Māori-integrated and many were Māori-led.

These provided kai packs and financial assistance via MSD.

On reports resources weren’t hitting the ground especially in rural areas, Whaanga said there were still pockets of the country where they needed to do better.

“We do recognise there are parts of the country they still needed to work, including both rural and urban areas.”

On the loosening of restrictions announced yesterday, he said it the advice was very clearly based on science and in the last two years, the way Covid has presented to us has changed.
He had confidence on the back of advice we would move to an environment which was different to where we were in the past but with protective measures in place to protect our people.

Whaanga said more than a quarter of a billion dollars had been invested in Māori provider network in the past two years, and said the range of services related to Covid-19 was a huge improvement on where we were two years ago.

Bloomfield said two years ago yesterday New Zealand announced its first cases of community transmission which triggered alert level lockdowns. Two years on, he thanked New Zealanders for playing their part over that time, including staying home, getting vaccinated, scanning in, wearing masks and maintaining physical distances.

He said if New Zealanders keep doing the basics well, they can continue to protect the most vulnerable people, including elderly, Māori and Pacific peoples, disabled and immunocompromised.

Drop in cases from yesterday

Yesterday there were 20,087 new cases in the community and 960 people were in hospital with the virus, 31 of these were in ICU or HDU.

At the border, 43 Covid-19 cases were detected.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has indicated a move to the orange traffic light setting would happen once the whole country has peaked in the outbreak.

Bloomfield said if he was asked today if the country should move to orange, he would not advise it.

He said all regional hubs would provide input around what they were seeing in the community – including on vulnerable groups that were affected.

They would look at hospitalisations and what was happening in GPs and that would add to the advice of any potential move to orange given to cabinet.

Bloomfield said, on the changes coming into force later this week such as gathering limits, they had looked into it hard and he was comfortable with it.

He said the most protective thing anyone could do was wear a mask to protect vulnerable people.

Even though Auckland peaked over two weeks ago, Hipkins said cases were still increasing in other parts of the country and defended the country remaining in red.

He also said the country remains under the red light traffic setting because of the strain on hospitals.

Regarding increasing cases of Covid in the South Island and impact on hospitals, Bloomfield said it is a concern but all DHBs had prepared for this and had contingency plans in place.

Hospitals across the country are facing significant staffing shortages.

The Canterbury District Health Board reported that about 15 per cent of nurses, 13 per cent of allied health workers – including medical technicians, physiotherapists and lab workers – and 9 per cent of doctors were off because of Covid-19.

In total about 510 staff were off because they were a positive case or were a household contact.

“[Hospitals] are relatively under strain. We’ve said right the way along, we want to avoid as many people getting Covid-19 as we can, particularly the people who might die from it. So that continues to be our objective,” Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking today.

Vaccine passes and most mandates will be dropped from April 4, the Prime Minister announced on Wednesday.

However, unvaccinated teachers could remain barred from some jobs as the Education Ministry has told schools they can require Covid-19 vaccination for certain roles even after the Government mandate lifts on April 5.

Ardern also announced outdoor gathering limits would be scrapped and the number of people allowed to gather inside would increase from 100 to 200 from 11.59pm Friday.

QR scanning will no longer be required, while masks will continue to be used and be one of the key protections.

There are some in the community who are nervous about the changes, particularly disabled and immunocompromised whānau.

Green Party Covid-19 response spokesman Teanau Tuiono said the party did not support the changes and called for better protections for vulnerable communities.

“Stronger protections in schools, equitable vaccination rates, and free masks are essential for keeping our most at-risk communities safe.

“They are also necessary to protect our overwhelmed health system.

“It is also far too premature to drop vaccine mandates for education, especially in early childhood education where under-5s cannot be vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, National Party Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop said with vaccine passes gone the traffic light system was now redundant.

“The Government would be better to ditch the whole thing and create some simple rules around masks and perhaps venue limits, rather than persist with a complicated color-code system that has never been used properly and that barely anyone understands.”

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