A Pacific public health expert says it is only a matter of time until there's community transmission of Covid-19's new Omicron variant in south Auckland and there's no doubt it will be hit hard by the virus.
There has been a surge in case numbers around the world since the variant was first detected last month, including in South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Data from South Africa suggests the numbers of people hospitalised, or dying from the new variant are lower than Delta, but the new strain of the virus is far more contagious.
Auckland University associate professor of public health Dr Collin Tukuitonga said the potential impact of the new strain of the virus in south Auckland was a growing concern.
"There's a lot we don't know about Omicron, but one of the things we do already know is that it is highly transmissible."
He said as a result areas like south Auckland are likely to be hit hard in an outbreak, as more people are likely to live in overcrowded and multi-generational households where the threat of transmission is greater.
"Omicron is likely to have a significant impact on those communities. I would say it's a no-brainer that that's what's going to happen.
"And with this variant it's a matter of when, not if, we get it."
A spokesman for Counties Manukau DHB said it was still too early to carry out accurate modelling to say what might happen if, or when, Omicron finally emerges.
He said the data was not yet available to make an educated prediction on possible numbers.
"We expect this to become clearer later in January 2022."
The spokesman said there were many variables that could influence the impact of Omicron in South Auckland, including the rate of transmission, the severity of infections, the impact on hospital and ICU-level care and how responsive it was to treatment.
University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson said while we don't yet have any community transmission of Omicron in New Zealand, it appeared to be more infectious and therefore the chance of it escaping from MIQ was quite high.
He said if New Zealand got the high case numbers modellers are predicting in other countries like Australia, the threat of it spreading would be that much greater.
"And we know Omicron is a lot more contagious.
"So even if the vaccine is preventing 95 per cent of deaths, some cases will get through."
He said it's purely a numbers game.
"The good news for us is we were late to the party in terms of the national vaccine roll out and we've vaccinated virtually everyone.
"And at the moment that is stopping a lot of cases."
But he agreed with the Counties Manukau DHB that it's too early to make concrete predictions on Omicron.
"At the moment we just don't know."
He said the fact the new variant was first identified in late November meant it was still relatively new.
Jackson said while there were plenty of reports coming out on Omicron in South Africa, there were major demographic differences between countries that needed to be taken into account.
"People are doing their best to make sense of it. But you can't tell until it has worked its way through a complete demographic of a population."