Dozens of Covid-19 cases have been detected in Southern aged residential care facilities in the past five weeks, newly released data reveals.
The first such case was confirmed on February 25, figures released by the Southern District Health Board said.
Just three days later, 20 cases were reported and on March 2, when the SDHB confirmed that there had been a major outbreak at the Bradford Manor secure dementia rest-home in Dunedin, cases exceeded 20.
A week later, combined aged residential care cases topped 30, and they passed 40 on March 11.
Eight days later, on March 19, daily aged residential care cases peaked at 83, before declining to about 50 as at March 27, the last date reported.
The elderly have always been regarded as the most vulnerable to Covid-19, and the SDHB made a concerted effort to ensure all people in aged residential care were fully vaccinated and then boosted.
SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said both health workers and facility staff had worked outstandingly to manage and mitigate the situation.
"Overall, there has been very successful management of these cases with only a very small number of residents requiring hospitalisation."
However, Southern Public Health officials say elsewhere in New Zealand the elderly had been among the last to be widely affected by Covid-19 as they, generally, took as many precautions to prevent infection as possible.
The South recorded 994 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday and 735 yesterday.
Case numbers are generally lower during the weekend, but 735 was still the third-highest regional total in New Zealand yesterday.
Three further southerners who had Covid-19 died at the weekend: no details of the deaths were revealed by the Ministry of Health.
At 11.59 tonight the vaccine pass system ceases to be mandatory, and vaccination mandates are also removed for several sectors.
Today, Cabinet will decide whether to alter the Covid-19 management traffic light settings: the whole country sits at red at present, but Cabinet could decide to reduce that, either nationally or regionally.
University of Otago Wellington epidemiologist Michael Baker said that as the traffic light system was set up right now there was little difference between red and orange, and a more comprehensive system was needed that reflected the true risk of people becoming infected with Covid-19.
"People need a really strong steer as to the safety of different environments and when it is safe to go out into shared indoor spaces," Baker said.
"It seems to me that there must be a lot of confusion about the scope of the traffic light system and what it actually means in terms of risk."
Moving areas such as Otago and Southland to orange would remove some of the few protections available just as cases in the region were probably in or around peaking, he said.
Even after peaking there would still be a baseline of likely several hundred cases a day, and there was also the possibility of successive peaks.
"I think we want to try and avoid a second peak and think quite hard about keeping pressure on the virus until we have a better idea as to how we are going to manage this virus long-term," Baker said.
"I think we do still need something like alert levels, which provide widely understood indications to the public about whether we are in a dangerous level of transmission."
Nationally, New Zealand recorded 8810 community cases yesterday, the first time cases had dipped below 10,000 a day for more than a month.
A further 18 deaths were reported, and 690 people were in hospital, 29 of them in Otago or Southland.