Nearly 170 aged care residents have died after catching Covid-19.
Figures released to the Herald on Sunday also reveal that, as of Thursday, there were 447 active cases in 164 aged care facilities across New Zealand.
According to preliminary reports made to the Ministry of Health, 169 aged care residents had died with Covid-19 between March 2020 and Thursday this week.
Of these deaths, one has been officially identified as due to Covid, and another as partly because of the virus. All others are yet to be classified.
The ministry records all people who died within 28 days of a positive test result as a Covid death.
"It's important to note that for a number of people who have died with Covid-19 during this outbreak, their infection has only been detected after death," a ministry spokesperson told the Herald on Sunday.
"It is also important to note that in some instances people who are receiving care in hospital ask to leave hospital and have end-of-life care at home."
The ministry's daily Covid update yesterday reported 8531 more community cases, 635 hospitalisations and 11 deaths, which include people who died over the past 14 days. That takes the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid to 477.
Case numbers are continuing to decline, with the seven-day average now 10,843, compared to last Saturday's 13,804. Of those in hospital, 18 are in intensive or high dependency unit care.
University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank said, roughly speaking, case numbers and hospitalisations have been dropping about 15-20 per cent a week.
"Although it took us four weeks to go from very low levels to a peak in cases, it's going to take longer than that to come down and, at some point, it's likely to plateau at a relatively steady level."
University of Auckland Associate Professor Collin Tukuitonga said while the seven-day average was decreasing, case numbers were still hovering around 10,000 and officials shouldn't rush moving New Zealand to orange. The next traffic light review is scheduled for April 14.
A few weeks ago only 27 aged care residents had died with Covid in the current outbreak. Aged care deaths include people who die in facilities like rest homes, and elsewhere including public hospitals.
Omicron outbreaks overseas have killed many more elderly, including in Hong Kong - where fewer elderly are vaccinated - Canada and Australia. The latter has recorded more than 1000 aged care deaths this year, many of whom had not had a booster shot by the time of their infection.
There are about 37,000 people in more than 650 aged care facilities in New Zealand, around 96 per cent of whom have had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. About 89 per cent have received a third dose - vital protection most had before Omicron took hold in the community.
Aged care staff must be vaccinated.
Simon Wallace, chief executive of the Aged Care Association, which represents most companies and facility owners, told the Herald on Sunday the sector was managing the pandemic well.
"The continued use of vaccine passes and RATs for visitors and vaccine mandates for aged care staff combined with existing infection prevention and control measures is proving to be effective. Outbreaks are being well contained so the virus is not spreading through a rest home."
However, desperate staff shortages have worsened since the Omicron wave began. A long-term shortage of nurses became a crisis after Covid-19 shut borders and created fierce competition for workers.
Aged care is short of 1000 registered nurses - 20 per cent of the workforce - and nurses are working double and even triple shifts - 24 hours straight - to plug gaps.
The Aged Care Association is part of a broad coalition that last month wrote to Health Minister Andrew Little asking him to urgently introduce pay parity for aged care nurses. Other members include the Nurses Organisation, Age Concern, Grey Power and Alzheimers NZ.
A difference in government funding means DHBs can pay significantly more money to hospital nurses, and many have been actively headhunting aged care nurses for roles. The pay difference will increase when a proposed pay equity deal for DHB nurses goes through in the coming months.
Little has said he has already instructed officials to urgently work on pay parity for aged care and other nurses, but it's unclear when that will happen.