There are 20,989 new community Covid cases and seven deaths today.
That is the highest number of daily Covid-related deaths in New Zealand since the pandemic reached the country in 2020. Five of the deaths are in Auckland, one is in Waikato and one is in the Southern region.
There are 856 people in hospital, 20 of them in intensive care. Ten of those in ICU are in Auckland.
One person who died was in their 50s, four were in their 70s, one was their 80s and one person was in their 90s.
The Ministry of Health said the deaths were a reminder that Omicron could be a serious illness, and result in death, either directly or by its impact on other health conditions. Getting vaccinated and boosted kept people out hospital if they contracted the virus and could save their life, the ministry said.
An increase in deaths was not unexpected, given the high case numbers over the past two weeks, but it was important to remember that each death represents a significant loss for family and loved ones.
"Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with all their families and friends at this sad time."
Covid-19 cases are at Northland (13), North Shore (173), Middlemore (204), Auckland (211), Waikato (74), BOP (21), Lakes (11), Tairāwhiti (1), Hawke's Bay (18), Taranaki (10), MidCentral (16), Whanganui (5), Hutt Valley (22), Capital and Coast (38), Wairarapa (4), Nelson Marlborough (3), Canterbury (20) and Southern (12) hospitals.
The average age of the 856 people in hospital is 57.
Long Covid was a reason to remain vigilant, Northern Region Health Coordination Centre clinical lead Dr Andrew Old said.
Getting Covid was not inevitable, and Old urged people to keep up with their health measures, including mask use.
On people wanting to catch Covid and get it over with, Old said it was a mild illness for some but a very severe for others and it was not just about you but others. You could pass it on to someone more vulnerable than you.
He said the numbers in Auckland gave rise for "cautious optimism" around having reached a peak, but we were "not out of the woods yet". While we are down from the peak of last week, it's believed some of that peak was because of the switch to RATs.
High hospitalisations and presentations were continuing to place pressure on the hospital system across the city.
The seven-day rolling average of community cases is 19,866. There are now 209,754 active community cases, which are cases detected in the past 10 days that have not yet recovered.
Of today's reported community cases, 669 were found via PCR testing and 20,320 were identified using RATs.
Yesterday, there were 21,015 new community cases and 773 people in hospital. Sixteen people were in ICU or HDU.
The Ministry of Health yesterday said there were now more people in hospital with Covid-19 than at any other point over the past two years.
Meanwhile, the ministry announced there had been 23 new Covid-19 cases detected at the border.
In the past 24 hours, 4614 PCR tests have been administered. In the past seven days, 13.4 million RATs have been dispatched across the country.
The ministry announced more than 60 per cent of Pacific people who are due for their booster dose have had it.
Across all ethnicities, and including people vaccinated overseas, 96.6 per cent of New Zealanders have had their first dose, 95.3 per cent have had their second and 72.7 per cent of those eligible have been boosted.
A tough winter
Old said everything we could do to help minimise the spread of respiratory illness would be important. He expected winter to be tough, and it was expected we would have influenza, RSV and possibly some Covid.
Covid-19 vaccination programme clinical director Dr Anthony Jordan said we are fortunate to have high vaccination and booster rates which meant many people had been able to avoid hospital rates and manage their illness at home.
For those who had not yet had their booster, his message was to go and get that done.
For those who had had Covid-19, the current advice was to wait three months for your booster, he said.
Jordan said while some might have built up some immunity by getting the virus, getting the booster would definitely help further in regards to re-infection.
Boosters and vaccinations of 5- to 11-year-olds were still progressing well.
"Naturally, you're all aware we have a seen a slowdown of the vaccination rate and that could be because people had Covid and needed to isolate at home.
"My message today is simple: if you and your whānau are due a vaccination, then please head out and get one."
Primary care co-clinical lead for whānau HQ Dr Christine McIntosh recognised the incredible efforts of those across the healthcare sector.
That was on top of those people managing things going on in their own households, McIntosh said.
McIntosh said a Covid triage tool had been developed.
She stressed teams were not able to call everyone who had Covid, but said it was important if you were struggling at home to call Healthline or your GP for support, especially if symptoms got worse. People should not hesitate to call 111 if their symptoms got severe.
Old said since March 1, 2 million RATs had been distributed through community testing sites and collection sites.
More than 500,000 RAT results had been recorded.
The positivity rates for these RATs ranged from 28 per cent for supervised tests at general practice up to about 46 per cent for self-reported samples, which reflected the smaller proportion of negative test results being self-reported.
"We are delighted so many people are taking up the opportunity to manage their testing at home. However, we are hearing many people are still uncertain as to whether they have done the test correctly."
Sue French, a nurse leader who has been involved in the testing response from the outset, did a demonstration.
Old said things were stretched across the DHBs. There was a lot of pressure at the front door or emergency departments, as well as maternity wards, he said.
At Counties Manukau DHB, public health nurses have stepped up into other roles. Registered nurses and healthcare assistants have picked up shifts outside their normal roles.
At Waitematā DHB, the legal team had moved to assist the security team, while the chief financial officer had delivered meals in wards.
On GP staff absences, McIntosh said across the Auckland region she was hearing there were pressures across some practices, including the pressures of cases and impacts on a practice's workforce.
They were actively working with primary care and doing what they could to support them but indeed it was "pretty stretched ... and the crunch is on".
She said the "business as usual" things done in primary care are all very important and individual practices were making decisions around what the priority was at this point.
McIntosh said Omicron for most was a mild illness but for some it was very serious, and the success of a Covid care in the community programme was that everyone was supported and people who needed to get to hospital got there.
"We are very focused on our goal on making sure people get the care that they need."
McIntosh recognised the efforts of those across the healthcare sector.
"We know it's pretty tough about there. We know you are doing a phenomenal job... I just really want to recognise that it is the work of all the health sector that is contributing at the moment ... across Aotearoa."
"Our whānau HQ home isolation teams ... are working extremely hard to manage the large number of people with Covid-19 and their households who are in isolation."
Isolation cut down
From midnight tonight, the isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts will be reduced from 10 to seven days.
The reduction in the case isolation time was based on evidence from overseas that a relatively small number of people who have Covid would still be infectious at seven days, Old said.
He was confident the reduction would not mean a significant increase in cases.
Ahead of the change, the ministry today provided further information on what happens if you or someone in your house tests positive:
• If you test positive for Covid-19, you are required to isolate for seven days. You do not need to be retested after your initial positive result.
• If you still have symptoms after seven days, stay home until you feel better and then wait another 24 hours.
• If you are a household contact and you have done a RAT on both day three and seven of the isolation period of the first Covid-19 positive person in your house, and both tests are negative, you can leave isolation on day eight if you are well.
• If you are a household contact and return a positive RATs result while isolating, you will need to isolate for a further seven days and wait for 24 hours after you are symptom-free. Other household members do not have to reset their isolation and can leave isolation on day eight, the same day as the first case can leave isolation, provided they have returned negative RATs results and are not symptomatic.
"The key message for everyone is if you feel sick, stay at home," the ministry said.
In announcing the change, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said as case numbers increased, larger numbers of people needed to isolate and the reduced isolation time was because of high case numbers and wider impacts.
"There needs to be a balance between effectively controlling the outbreak and the flow-on effect for business and essential goods and services such as transport and food supply," he said.
"The most up-to-date public health advice is that there is a decline in infectiousness of Omicron over time, and that in most cases transmission occurs within seven days.
"Seven days' isolation will break the vast majority of potential transmissions, while ensuring people can get back to work quicker and therefore reducing the impact on business operations."
Household contacts would need to have a rapid antigen test at day three and day seven of their isolation period.
If they become symptomatic they should also get a test, and if the result was positive, they would need to reset their week-long isolation period from that point.
Hospitalisations lagged behind
Canterbury University Professor Michael Plank said with 7234 cases in Auckland reported yesterday, the region might have reached its peak as the rolling average of cases per 100,000 people had fallen from almost 700 to just over 600.
Plank said it was likely Auckland had hit peak cases but as hospitalisations lagged behind it was possible the city's hospital figures could continue to increase or remain flat for a while yet.
"It could be another week or two before we start to see them come down."
Nationally, modelling indicated the most likely scenario was hospitalisations peaking at somewhere around 1000, he said.
"It still looks roughly on trajectory for that as a national peak."
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker also said looking at the latest numbers, it appeared cases in Auckland had peaked.
The virus outbreak continues to cause disruption across Auckland.
Auckland Transport had cancelled about 2000 services a day because of staff shortages.
About 400 employees were unable to work because they either had Covid-19 or were household contacts.
Fullers360 had cancelled more than 70 ferry sailings across Auckland's harbour because of too many staff having Covid.