4 Mar 2022

Auckland's fight against Covid-19 Omicron: 'We might be about to turn the corner'

2:01 pm on 4 March 2022

Auckland health officials are cautiously optimistic that case numbers may have reached a peak in the city, although the number of people in hospital could continue to rise for the next week.

The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) has provided an update on how Tāmaki Makaurau as a region is managing the Covid-19 Omicron outbreak.

NRHCC chief clinical officer Dr Andrew Old was joined by associate chief clinical officer and clinical immunologist/physician Dr Anthony Jordan, as well as NRHCC Whānau HQ primary care co-clinical lead Dr Christine McIntosh.

Watch the update here:

There were 13,252 community cases in the three DHBs and Dr Old said they were cautiously optimistic that this level might represent the peak for Auckland.

"We've only had a few days at that level now, and we are distributing a lot of tests, but based on our modelling and what we've seen from overseas we expect that we might be about to turn the corner."

He said hospitalisations in Auckland remain low, with just under 0.5 percent of the now over 100,000 active cases in hospital, and over the course of the Omicron outbreak less than 2 percent of cases receiving treatment in Auckland hospitals.

There was no particular figure he believed cases would peak out at but "if we are genuinely turning the corner with cases, which we hope, we would expect that hopefully hospital numbers might peak in the next week before starting to come down as well".

He said Auckland was very fortunate to be facing this surge with a highly vaccinated population, but the sheer number of cases did mean there were many people who did require care, and it was important that care services were prioritised for those who needed them most.

Dr Jordan said current hospitalisations for Covid-related sickness had not exceeded expectations at this stage. He said there were staged plans for Covid wards to grow at all the hospitals in the Auckland metro region.

Dr Jordan said the vast majority of people in Auckland hospitals because of Covid-19 were those at high risk of getting unwell with Covid, and people who have not been fully vaccinated, "and that may skew the numbers a little bit to a younger, more weller cohort of people that potentially we could have protected from ending up in hospital had we been able to vaccinate them".

"Obviously every death for us is heartbreaking, and we extend our condolences to those families but it's a salient reminder that Omicron is not always going to be a mild illness for everyone. So our message to the population is go and get your booster, make sure that you have a plan for your home and for those people that you care for to make sure they're able to isolate safely."

Dr Old said people should book their test collection on the website launched yesterday to reduce waiting times.

While Dr Old encouraged people who did not need testing not to do so, he said there were good levels of supply for tests.

"We've got 9.3 million tests in stock, 8.8 million dispatched in the last seven days and a further almost 100 million coming in."

He said everyone needed to play their part, and that includes the community doing the right thing, and not take advantage of the system.

He said RAT tests were not as sensitive as PCR, so the advice was for people with symptoms who were taking multiple RATs to seek a PCR test for confirmation.

He said there was still a backlog in PCR testing laboratories but that is expected to be cleared over the weekend. There was good capacity in PCR testing, he said.

Hundreds of frontline staff are off work across the city's hospitals, either with the virus, or caring for family members.

College of Emergency Medicine New Zealand faculty chair Kate Allan works in an Auckland hospital but is at home with Covid-19 this week.

She said three senior doctors were off work at her hospital, but it was the nurses where the shortages were "incredibly significant".

And members of the disabled community are worried they will be left on their own, unable to get out of bed or go to the toilet, when the Omicron outbreak hits its peak.

About 25 percent of New Zealanders have a disability, some with complex needs requiring carers for day to day tasks.

Disability Connect chair Colleen Brown said a lack of information about what support was available for disabled people who were isolating or infected was causing concern.

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