20 Feb 2022

Covid-19: Hospitalisations rise to all-time high on record day of Omicron spread

6:23 pm on 20 February 2022

Today's 2522 new Covid-19 cases in New Zealand are the highest daily numbers so far in the pandemic, but the 100 people in hospital today is also the largest total of the outbreak.

A new record was set for both Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations today. Photo:

According to RNZ data, hospitalisations hit highs of 93 cases twice in November. In 2020's first Covid-19 outbreak, the highest number of people in hospital at one time was 89.

None of the 100 hospital cases announced today were in intensive care units. The hospital cases are mostly in Auckland, but there are also cases in Waikato, Tauranga, Rotorua and Tairāwhiti.

The number of people in hospital has been growing steadily all week as new cases rose, and has tripled since 32 people were in hospital on 13 February.

According to the Ministry of Health's website, as of 19 February a total of 836 people had been hospitalised during the pandemic, and 69 people were in ICU care.

There has been a steady drumbeat of concerns about New Zealand's medical capacity in the face of a large escalation in cases.

Last week, it was reported that one in every 10 people presenting at the Middlemore Hospital emergency department had been testing positive for Covid-19.

Middlemore Hospital head of emergency department Dr Vanessa Thornton told Morning Report that the case rise was expected, and the hospital had been pivoting to address the demand on staff and services.

"We have changed all our process to adapt, but it's challenging. We already had reduced staffing … prior to this and with the illness that's affecting the community, it obviously affects our workforce as well.

"… Middlemore has been prepared for this," she said. "We may have to reduce some other services in order to cope, but we have a plan in place to cope with this surge going up in the next four weeks."

In January, College of Critical Care Nurses chairwoman Tania Mitchell told Morning Report that the country was short of at least 90 ICU beds if a major outbreak hit.

"We know compared to other areas in the OECD that even for business as usual we have a low number of intensive care beds per head, compared to other countries, and that puts us in the back foot going into this."

New Zealand Nurses Organisation manager of industrial services Glenda Alexander also told RNZ earlier this month that staff are already stretched thin at hospitals and that Omicron cases among them could push them to their limit.

"The issue for us in health is we already have a stretched workforce in terms of staffing. So if we lost, for instance, 25 per cent of our workforce it's going to put enormous pressure on hospitals.

"We just don't have the capacity in the system, so it could be a real challenge."

The government announced in December as the Omicron outbreak began that it was going to pump $644 million into ICU capacity and operational costs.

Cabinet earmarked $100m from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to accelerate ICU projects and another $544m of operational funding such as staffing.

However, of the projects announced, Health Minister Andrew Little said three would be available in the next six months and another was a "couple of years away."

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand's move to Phase Two of its Omicron response last week, the strategy also moved toward shorter periods of home isolation and increased use of rapid antigen tests.

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