27 Feb 2022

Big Covid-19 case rise in younger groups 'not surprising' - epidemiologist

7:13 pm on 27 February 2022

The latest Covid-19 figures are being driven by a combination of rapid antigen tests becoming available and the virus spreading throughout the country.

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The increasing availability of rapid antigen tests is leading to more cases reported. Photo: 123RF

There are 14,941 new community cases recorded today, an increase of more than 1300 compared with yesterday.

One person has died.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the outbreak will peak over the next month before declining.

"At the peak, there will be tens of thousands of new infections every day and only some of them will have symptoms and come forward and get tested.

"So we have to interpret the numbers that we're seeing with that in mind. It's a combination of what the outbreak is doing and also the extent to which we're actually getting test results."

Baker said tomorrow marks two years since the first Covid-19 case was detected in New Zealand.

But he is still optimistic about the future.

"By delaying the arrival of the Omicron variant, it's given us a good opportunity to get highly vaccinated and boosted. And also, we have what is called peak immunity, because we've had our vaccine doses and boosters very recently and that means we're ready to meet this virus with a lot of anti-bodies."

The Ministry of Health said more than two thirds of eligible New Zealanders have now had their booster dose, with 28,836 people receiving their boosters yesterday.

Baker said people should still get up-to-date with vaccinations, even though the window for immunity before the peak arrives is narrowing.

Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa project leader Dion O'Neale yesterday said that the large jump in cases could be due to testing and data processing backlogs, particularly on PCR test results. Dr O'Neale said he was still anticipating a Covid-19 peak in mid to late March.

High recent Covid rate in younger age groups 'not surprising'

Baker said the latest figures showing a large proportion of recent Covid-19 cases are younger people, are not unexpected.

The Ministry of Health's statement said today that of the 14,940 Covid-19 cases reported in the past fortnight, 59 percent of have been under 30 years of age, and 12 percent were over 50.

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Michael Baker says recent vaccine doses and boosters mean that many New Zealanders are now at "peak immunity". Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Baker said infection happens very rapidly in younger age groups.

"They have big social networks and obviously there are people starting at university and school and so on over the past few weeks, that means a lot of mixing, so it's not surprising we're seeing the highest rates in the younger demographics - 10 to 19-year-olds and 20 to 29-year-olds."

However, the figures also show younger people with Covid are avoiding being admitted to hospital with the virus.

MInistry of Health figures indicate that of the 236 patients with Covid-19 currently in hospital in the Northern region, 19 percent are under 30 and 54 percent are over the age of 50.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins last week warned that nearly every school and early childhood centre would have contact with Covid-19 in the next few weeks.

Hipkins said one in five schools have Covid-19 cases in them and that would only increase.

Baker said people needing hospital treatment are likely to have underlying health conditions or be older.

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