Hundreds more may die in NZ’s first omicron wave, covid modeller says

Fewer deaths than usual in New Zealand
Overall, there have been fewer deaths than usual in New Zealand since the pandemic started because lockdowns basically eliminated influenza. Image: RNZ/Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

By Hamish Cardwell, RNZ News senior journalist

A covid-19 modeller says hundreds more people could die in Aotearoa New Zealand’s first wave of the omicron outbreak.

Health officials reported today that 11 more people with covid-19 had died in New Zealand, with 12,882 new community cases reported and 861 people in hospital with the coronavirus — including 21 in ICU or HDU.

The total death toll stands at 269, with the current average of 12 deaths a day of people with covid-19.

Professor Michael Plank from the University of Canterbury and Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa expected this death rate to continue for a few more weeks, and ultimately between 300 and 500 people to die by the end of the first omicron wave.

“Because although it looks like cases have peaked, deaths [lag behind],” Professor Plank said.

The death total was at about the lower to middle end of projections from earlier this year — which picked between 400 and 1200 deaths, he said.

A reason for New Zealand’s low death rate high booster uptake among older people and young people comprising a large amount of those infected.

New covid-19 variants
But Professor Plank said there still could be new covid-19 variants or second waves which could affect the numbers.

If the virus took hold in communities with low booster rates, for example Māori, or high risk populations such as those in aged care facilities, that could cause the rate to increase again, he said.

Overall, there have been fewer deaths than usual in New Zealand since the pandemic started because lockdowns basically eliminated influenza.

But with borders opening soon bringing in travellers with infectious diseases, and winter coming, there are still difficult times to come.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said it was likely to be a bad influenza season, and it was crucial people get the flu jab.

Big picture — NZ has done well
Professor Baker said it was prudent that older people and those in poor health thought about cutting back on socialising for a few weeks while the omicron outbreak ran its course.

While nationwide case numbers appeared to have peaked, many in the community were infected with the virus, he said.

But the big picture was that New Zealand’s covid-19 response had been effective, with the death toll among the lowest in the world, Baker said.

There were five times the number of deaths in Australia and Singapore, which also implemented strong measures to combat the spread of the virus.

Baker said the death toll was 20 times higher in Hong Kong, Denmark and Canada and 50 times higher in the UK.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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