Real Covid-19 cases in New Zealand now probably exceed half a million and could be approaching a million due to massive under-reporting, a public health expert says.
The Omicron strain has likely made its more severe but less infectious Delta predecessor extinct, Dr Nick Wilson said as confirmed active cases reached 192,228.
The Ministry of Health figure released yesterday was probably three to five times less than the true number, the University of Otago professor said.
Wilson said self-reporting a positive rapid test result took some effort, and many people did not want to isolate if testing positive, so would not report.
"The media obsession with cases I just find inexplicable. People need to know that in this stage of the epidemic, it's hospitalisations that are important," Wilson said.
Health officials yesterday said 756 people were in hospital, with 16 in intensive care or high dependency units.
On Sunday, 618 cases were in hospital. But of those, less than two per cent needed intensive care, much lower than during the major Delta outbreak last spring.
The latest episode in the two-year long pandemic was unfolding in different ways nationwide, Wilson said.
"Auckland is probably one, two, three weeks ahead of the rest of the country, maybe not that far ahead of Waikato."
Rule change welcomed
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine President John Bonning welcomed changes to isolation rules for critical workers in the health sector.
Critical health workers who test positive for the virus can return to work earlier – they'd either be able to work in Covid wards or come out of isolation after six days with the return of two negative tests.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking, Bonning said the changes were pragmatic but added some people were nervous about them.
But he said the country was now at a point now where it's about finding ways to live with the virus.
Ten days isolation was too long, he said, noticing that many people were very unwell only briefly.
"It's a little bit frustrating when you're completely well and need to be off work. There's significant impact to the workforce with that."
He said there are plenty of other critical services that might benefit from similar rules.
"I expect this would need to be opt-in for these critical services that would be harmed if they had to shut."
National leader Chris Luxon, who is isolating at home with Covid, told the AM Show today he was feeling fine and it had been pretty straightforward so far.
"It doesn't feel much more than a cold to be honest and I've just been powering through."
Call to shorten isolation period
The Act Party yesterday called on the Government to dump the 10-day isolation period, and consider adopting a five-day isolation period.
Act leader David Seymour said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended five days' isolation.
In Singapore, 72 hours' isolation is required but if people feel well and get a negative self-administered test result, they can get back to normal activities.
Seymour said that was also a viable alternative to current New Zealand requirements.
"Businesses are suffering a virtual lockdown. Some shopkeepers are lucky to get a few customers a day because people are in fear," Seymour said.
Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 Response Minister, said he was confident hospitals could manage infection control and keep staff safe.
"At the moment, they're within the range of what we've been expecting."
Speaking yesterday, Hipkins said Auckland hospitals had suggested the situation had eased in the preceding 24 hours.
"But they are under an enormous amount of pressure," he added.
Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said the newer Omicron strain was overwhelmingly dominant now.
The pandemic is so rampant, healthcare workers with two negative tests can return to work in some circumstances.
To sustain critical services, healthcare workers with Covid may return to work earlier than usual if their absence meant the service couldn't run.
Daily wellbeing checks would be used, with workers stood down if symptoms worsened.
The first option let Covid-positive healthcare workers return to work on day 6 after returning a negative rapid test result.
A second option let Covid-positive staff return to work on wards where all patients had the virus.
"This second pathway can only be used if all other options have been exhausted, but it's an extra tool," McElnay said yesterday.
Hipkins is expected to address media this afternoon for the latest updates on the pandemic.
- By John Weekes, Nikki Preston