In the midst of New Zealand’s fifth wave of Covid-19, the country is facing its largest spike in infections this year, according to leading epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker. Health officials recently reported 7881 new cases, with a notable increase in “probable” cases compared to the previous week. Hospitalization numbers have also risen, along with the detection of the virus in wastewater surveillance.
The latest data from ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research) indicates that the amount of virus detected per person, per day in wastewater has doubled since the previous month. This is a concerning trend that suggests the virus is spreading rapidly within the community.
Professor Baker highlights that both wastewater surveillance and hospitalizations are at their highest levels since January. In fact, hospitalization rates during this wave appear to be even higher than those observed during the previous wave. This may provide insight into what the long-term future with the coronavirus could look like – a cycle of peaks and troughs.
However, the models used by experts suggest that this current wave will not reach the magnitude of the wave experienced in 2022. This is because the current wave started from a lower base of infections. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest the presence of a game-changing subvariant that could drive an even larger wave.
The latest genome sequencing of the virus reveals a mix of Omicron subvariants, with the EG.5 or “Eris” type and its relatives being responsible for more than half of the sequenced genomes. While there is some regional variation in the wave’s intensity, the overall pattern remains clear – New Zealand is in the midst of a large wave and decisive action is needed.
Looking ahead, Professor Baker emphasizes the importance of a national approach to managing these peak periods. Measures such as promoting booster shots, providing support for self-isolation, and implementing consistent policies for ventilation and mask use in healthcare settings are crucial. Recently, Professor Baker and his colleagues have called on the government to establish a dedicated disease control center, similar to those in the US and Australia, to better prepare for future pandemics.
It is clear that New Zealand must act on the information provided by surveillance systems and take proactive measures to protect the population and alleviate the strain on the healthcare system. As the country grapples with this fifth wave, it serves as a reminder of the long-term challenges posed by the coronavirus and the need for robust strategies to mitigate its impact.