27 Mar 2022

Covid-19 modeller says New Zealand's Omicron death rate comparable to other countries

4:45 pm on 27 March 2022

A Covid-19 modeller is hopeful Omicron hospitalisations have peaked and says at this stage New Zealand's death rate is at a comparable level to other countries during an Omicron wave.

Test for coronavirus Covid-19. Female doctor or nurse doing lab analysis of a nasal swab in a hospital laboratory. Medical technologist holding a COVID-19 smear kit, wearing protective gloves from

Photo: 123RF

The number of people needing care dropped for four straight days up until yesterday, although the number of people hospitalised did increase slightly from 841 yesterday to 848 today.

Even with today's slight increase there are still 168 fewer people now in hospital than early last week.

However, 83 people have died with Covid-19 in the past seven days, easily the highest toll for a week during the pandemic, with 20 deaths reported yesterday.

Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa project leader Dion O'Neale said New Zealand's Covid death rate is about the international standard for an Omicron wave.

He said the numbers look to be comparable to other countries: "We're not looking outstanding in either direction for death rates.

"One thing that's a big risk for fatalities is if you start to get spread that starts to make its way through aged care and residential care facilities, that's a super high risk situation and that's going to give you these spikes, or clumps of deaths coming together."

Overall, New Zealand has had 258 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

O'Neale is hopeful New Zealand has seen the peak in hospitalisations.

But he warns the descent will be "bumpy" with increases if the virus gets into vulnerable populations like rest homes.

O'Neale said for this wave, the country appears to have avoided a health system "collapse" some people were worried about.

"From the data I've seen anyway it looks like we are scraping through and managed to maybe, hopefully, get past the worst of this peak without exceeding that capacity."

Hospitals have gone to unusual lengths to continue operating while many of their own staff are off sick - including people doing other jobs to manage demand.

Canterbury nurses who volunteer for extra shifts in aged care are getting $350 a night to cover ongoing Covid-related staff shortages, while Auckland nurses and midwives were offered a $500 bonus for working extra overnight shifts, as staffing shortages climbed to 25 percent during the city's Omicron peak.

In Auckland's Middlemore Hospital staff such as doctors and medical technicians stepped in to help on the wards and in the emergency department during the Omicron peak, while in Wellington non-clinical staff with clinical backgrounds stepped in to help fill staffing shortages.

Only about half the planned care was going ahead at Wellington region hospitals last week, while Auckland hospitals put all but the most urgent care on hold during its Omicron peak.

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