New Zealand is in the grip of a sickness surge as health practitioners deal with an influx of respiratory illnesses while an expert says the start of a second wave Covid-19 in the coming weeks is possible.
It comes as health officials report an increase in the seven-day rolling average of Covid-19 cases from 4878 last Tuesday to 5480 yesterday, and 16 deaths of people with the virus, including a young person.
At the same time, an increase in illnesses like colds and the flu is also putting pressure on hospitals and local health care providers.
Data from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research's flu dashboard shows more than three times as many people in recent weeks have self-reported flu symptoms of a fever and cough than at the same time in 2021. That figure was about 20 times more than in June 2020.
University of Canterbury epidemiologist Professor Michael Plank said it was possible New Zealand was near the start of a second wave and reported case numbers could increase in the coming weeks.
"We're likely to see a significant increase in the number of cases, exactly how the severity of those cases will compare to the first wave is bit uncertain, but just the increase in numbers will likely flow through to hospitalisations and deaths increasing as well."
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said it was "pretty likely" Covid-19 case numbers would increase and while many people were "completely over" the pandemic, it was still an ongoing threat.
There were 8028 community cases of the virus reported yesterday and 383 cases in hospital, including seven in intensive care.
"We can see in the numbers, by every indicator, it's a huge ongoing problem," Baker said.
"The indicators are the number of people in hospital, it's putting pressure on the hospital, and it's also taking some workers out of [work], it's putting pressure on the schools and now it's combining with influenza."
Meanwhile, Covid-19 infections continue to disrupt the lives of New Zealanders.
Year 9 and 10 students at Auckland's Albany Junior High School are learning from home until next Friday due to teacher absences related to Covid-19 isolation requirements and illnesses, an email from school's principal stated.
Over the past weekend, six Jetstar flights, including five domestic services and one trans-Tasman flight, out of Auckland were cancelled due to crew illness.
And a number of Covid-19 cases have been reported among the All Blacks just days before their first test with Ireland
An Auckland pharmacist noted pressure on their services over the last three weeks as more customers seek prescriptions.
Unichem Pakuranga co-owner Vicky Chan said there had been an increase in the number of prescriptions needing to be delivered to Covid-19 patients over the past seven days as well.
"The last three weeks, there has been a lot of pressure on the health system. Coming through the pharmacy, the amount of antibiotic scripts, sick people, or [people] just needing symptoms relieved, it's huge."
Chan also said there had been a noticeable increase in people seeking flu vaccinations from the pharmacy, especially young people and people who had never had one before.
Pressure also continues to be felt in general practices across the country with GP Bryan Betty, medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, noting a surge in demand for services on top of routine work and staff shortages.
Betty said one day last week at his practice in Porirua, three of the clinic's seven doctors and two of its eight nurses were absent.
"That has quite an impact on the ability or capacity to service the increased demand we are seeing."
In Auckland, Counties Manukau DHB has been willing to pay local GPs up to $1400 an hour over the weekend in a bid to ease the pressure on its emergency department.
Last week, RNZ reported that twenty-seven GPs in South Auckland had offered free appointments over a weekend at the request of Middlemore's DHB as the hospital's emergency department had been overwhelmed.
The DHB had said in a notice it would fund them $250 per patient on Friday evening and weekend days and $350 per patient on weekends from 8pm to 11pm, RNZ reported.
In the south, Otago Daily Times reported today that severe staff shortages and ''overwhelming demand'' forced the Southern District Health Board to defer all non-emergency and cancer-related surgery at both Dunedin and Southland hospitals on Monday and further cancellations were expected.
Professor Michael Plank said the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 was based on the latest genome-sequencing data which showed that BA4 and BA5 variants were spreading faster than BA2.
"We're likely [going to see] increasing numbers of reinfections because one of the big reasons that these new variants can spread more quickly is they have a higher ability to reinfect people who have had it before.
"We all want the pandemic to be over but unfortunately the virus doesn't care what we want. We do have these new variants and we can already see that the health system is under intense pressure at the moment with the combination of Covid and the very high levels of flu at the moment."