9 Feb 2022

Covid-19: Emergency departments expect huge pressures from Omicron - specialist

7:38 am on 9 February 2022

Even in the best case scenario for Omicron, there's going to be huge pressure on already busy hospitals, a leading emergency doctor says.

Health professionals have been warning the health system is desperately stretched.

Photo: 123rf

Latest modelling by Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa suggests a peak of 800 people in hospital on any given day at best, but well over 3000 at worst.

There was growing optimism the country would achieve the lower hospitalisation numbers - as long as people kept getting boosted and restrictions stayed in place.

But College of Emergency Medicine head John Bonning said that would still mean a big few months for emergency departments.

Many had been extremely busy with normal work in the past few days, and having Covid-19 on top of that would be a big stretch.

The impact would be felt even more with the inevitable short-term loss of staff who would become infected themselves, he said.

"Currently we are very busy and very full of a lot of people with non-Covid illness and so it is going to be tough, and particularly in emergency departments," he said.

But there was no need to panic, he stressed.

While there would be a huge amount of pressure for people working in health, there would still be care for those who needed it.

"I don't want to put people off coming to emergency departments when they have terrible chest pain, or they're having a stroke, or they're haemorrhaging or they're elderly and they fall," he said.

He urged people to get boosted to keep themselves safe and to help keep hospital numbers low.

One of the modellers, Michael Plank, said he was also optimistic New Zealand would flatten the Covid-19 curve - as long as people kept getting boosted in big numbers.

His team had investigated three main trajectories - following the path of South Australia in the best case scenario (a peak of 800 people in hospital on any given day), London in the middle (resulting in a peak of 2100 people in hospital a day when applied to New Zealand), and New York in the worst (a peak of 3300 per day in hospital).

Hospital beds set up in an emergency field hospital tent in Central Park New York, to serve as a respiratory unit, in 2020.

Hospital beds set up in an emergency field hospital tent in Central Park New York, to serve as a respiratory unit, in 2020. Photo: AFP/ Getty Images

All of those figures assumed a 90 percent boosted eligible population, with the figures considerably worse if just 70 percent took up the booster.

Professor Plank said the most likely scenario was South Australia, or a mix between South Australia and London.

"If we can really keep the momentum going with boosters and we continue the momentum with the five to 11 year old vaccinations then we stand a really good chance of avoiding some of the worst outbreaks we've seen in other countries," he said.

"But nevertheless I am still worried about the amount of pressure that our health care system could have during the peak of the outbreak, so we can't afford to be complacent.

"We can't afford to drop our guard."

All the measures to slow or flatten the curve were still crucial, he said.

The modelling had predicted a range of deaths with the different scenarios from about 400 to about 1400.

Professor Plank said that was the least certain factor in the modelling because fewer people had died from the variant, so there was less statistical evidence to base the modelling on.

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