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Live: Concerns grow over under-reporting of Covid cases

Live: Concerns grow over under-reporting of Covid cases thumbnail

New Zealand

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People are being urged to both get tested for Covid-19 if feeling unwell and also report the results of self-administered RAT tests. Photo / Michael Craig

As officials prepare to reveal the latest spread of Covid-19 in the community, further concern has been aired about the growing number of unwell New Zealanders who are not testing for the virus or not reporting their health status.

Yesterday, more than 11,000 fresh cases were reported in the community.

But health officials said the true number of that daily case number could actually be twice that figure due to people either not testing for Covid-19 despite being sick, or testing and not reporting the fact they were positive.

The Ministry of Health will reveal the latest known case numbers about 1pm today.

Immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu said the potential for twice as many fresh cases in New Zealand – and people who were Covid-19 positive mixing in the community – was a huge concern.

“Omicron is continuing to cause nationwide disruption for all, putting hospitals, support systems, primary care and community care under immense strain and pressure – which they’ve been dealing with for a while now,” Sika-Paotonu said.

“Wastewater testing results have been indicating much higher Covid-19 infections levels in the community than reflected by reported figures, driving further concern people who may be unwell aren’t testing or isolating, and therefore continuing to spread Covid-19.

“Concern about the under-reporting of Covid-19 case figures has been a long-standing issue, and it is estimated that the actual Covid-19 cases are double those being reported right now.”

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Health officials said yesterday the current wave of Omicron spread could see reported fresh cases peaking at about 21,000 a day.

Sika-Paotonu – Associate Dean (Pacific), Head of University of Otago Wellington Pacific Office, and Senior Lecturer, Pathology & Molecular Medicine, University of Otago Wellington – said new Omicron subvariants were also causing problems due to their “higher transmissibility”.

She said ongoing work would also need to be carried out to understand more about whether re-infections for Omicron and all its subvariants end up being more or less severe, when compared to a primary infection.

Her message to people trying to do all they could to avoid either getting Covid-19, or minimising how sick you might get, was clear.

“Masks, Covid-19 vaccines and proper ventilation within the education setting remain important for protection.”

New Zealand is battling a second wave of Covid infections, with more than 11,000 community cases recorded yesterday for a third straight day.

Thursday’s cases

There were 11,382 new Covid cases reported on Thursday and 23 virus-related deaths.

A child aged 10 or under was among the dead.

The 23 deaths were in the past week.

Four were from the Auckland region, one was from Waikato, one was from Bay of Plenty, one was from Lakes, one was from Taranaki, one was from Hawkes Bay, two were from MidCentral, one was from the Wellington region, two were from Nelson/Marlborough, seven were from Canterbury, one was from South Canterbury and one was from Southern.

The geographic spread of the 765 hospitalisations was Northland, 17; Waitematā, 133; Counties Manukau, 54; Auckland, 105; Waikato, 55; Bay of Plenty, 47; Lakes, 17; Hawke’s Bay, 27; MidCentral, 33; Whanganui, 18; Taranaki, 15; Tairawhiti, 4; Wairarapa, 12; Capital & Coast, 32; Hutt Valley, 27; Nelson Marlborough, 12; Canterbury, 94; West Coast, 3; South Canterbury, 15; Southern, 45.

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Next steps revealed

Covid-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and new Health NZ chief executive Margie Apa briefed reporters on Thursday on the next steps in the response to the virus.

Verrall said NZ would remain at the orange traffic light setting. The Government had weighed up whether moving to red would make a significant difference, but gathering limits would only offer “an incremental benefit”.

Wearing a mask, getting boosted and staying home if sick were more effective than a return to the red setting, she said.

However red was not redundant: “This is a virus that keeps changing, therefore we do need a flexible response system.

“We need to have a response we can flex.”

However, she said at the moment she believed the country could get through with more emphasis on the measures at orange.

Officials say there is no need for New Zealand to go to the red light Covid-19 setting at the moment. Photo / Michael Craig
Officials say there is no need for New Zealand to go to the red light Covid-19 setting at the moment. Photo / Michael Craig

Lockdown not necessary – precautions urged

Verrall said she did not think a lockdown was needed for this variant, noting that the effectiveness of lockdowns tended to abate the more you used them.

She said there was no “magic case numbers” threshold at which the higher red setting would be imposed – it depended on factors such as how the virus was spreading and its severity.

Verrall said the most effective measures for the current outbreak were masks, boosters, widening the scope of anti-virals and encouraging people to test.

Free masks and rapid antigen tests would be offered at collection sites, Verrall said.

People would no longer have to have Covid symptoms or be a household contact or a critical worker.

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However, she said people should still book in for RAT collection, to ensure there was enough stock.

The country has 100 million RATs.

The Government is also providing 10 million child-size masks for Year 4-7 students and up to 30,000 masks a week for all other students and school staff.

Verrall said if schools took up the support of free masks in the next term, it would make a difference: “Please use it.”

A new campaign to try to push along the boosters campaign would also be run.

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