New Zealand’s new Covid-19 wave is rising at the most inconvenient time.
Christmas and holidays are not far away and most Kiwis don’t want to pay any attention to the coronavirus - three long years after it emerged.
The latest weekly figures showed a jump to 6000 on Tuesday, which was up by 1200 on the previous Tuesday. The rolling seven-day average of more than 4040 was three times what it was in mid-September.
As people report Covid tests even less frequently than before, the current case situation is murky.
After most Covid measures were eased, people got used to Covid cases at a lower level in September and October. Mask use fell away in places such as supermarkets and malls, and life looked more like pre-Covid normality.
Other issues are viewed as more pressing and important. Having moved on, the majority don’t want to slip back into pandemic precautions.
That’s not the situation for everyone, though, and November’s rise in case numbers will have some people reaching for their masks again.
The role of peer pressure and staying in step with what others are doing can’t be understated. People who would like the extra reassurance of a mask while shopping should wear one - and by doing so they might be encouraging others to wear one as well.
It’s particularly important that people who are more vulnerable to harm from the virus, ensure that they protect themselves when in family gatherings and stress that the people around them respect their concern.
In this overall environment where people are taking few if any precautions, the virus has a better chance of spreading as people visit shopping centres and other indoor public places in the lead-up to Christmas and families then get together before the New Year.
Health advice has to work with the realities of public attitudes to have any influence. There are simple things people can do in December to help themselves and others.
Masks would be a good precaution if people are shopping for gifts or grocery items in crowded buildings. Christmas parties, lunches, and family gatherings should be in ventilated spaces or outdoors. People could consider taking a test before meeting up and anyone with Covid symptoms shouldn’t attend an event with others.
Modeller Dr Dion O’Neale says New Zealand’s latest Covid rise has been driven by a mix of behavioural factors such as less mask-wearing and the country’s subvariant soup.
He considers the next few weeks to be the most risky, but the rest of the summer is likely to be easier.
“Once we get past the Christmas party season, we move into a much lower-risk transmission environment. We’re not at school and people aren’t going to work and so those are two of those big contexts where people are mixing indoors ... which is terrible for transmission.”
People can also get a booster if they haven’t had one, or had only one. In the US, health authorities say that Covid deaths are now highly concentrated among the elderly, as booster rates fall behind in older people.
Case numbers have ticked up in countries such as Australia, South Korea, Japan, France and Italy. And frustration at Beijing’s continued hardline zero-Covid approach has brought both unusually wide protests and a security operation in response.
New Zealand’s confirmed Covid case numbers, while higher than last year’s, are still the best they have been since February and are low in the context of the country’s population of five million people.
The country has managed to get to a more stable place, after a hard first six months of the year, following the effort to transition from zero-Covid and the arrival of the Omicron variant a year ago.
Even with the current wave, this summer should be a welcome one for tourism and hospitality businesses, hoping to make up for lost time.