New Zealand is currently experiencing its fifth wave of Covid-19, which is causing a significant surge in infections. This wave, according to epidemiologists, is the largest spike seen all year and provides a glimpse into the country’s long-term future with the coronavirus. Health officials recently reported 7,881 new cases of Covid-19 in a single week, with an additional 1,474 “probable” cases. This is a substantial increase compared to the previous week’s figures of 5,947 and 1,047, respectively.
Hospitalization numbers have also risen, reaching 349 in the latest week compared to 284 the week before. Additionally, virus detection in wastewater surveillance has doubled in just one month, with an average of 5.06 million copies of the virus detected per person, per day.
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker from Otago University emphasizes the significance of this wave’s impact on hospitalizations, stating that it appears to be a larger peak compared to the fourth wave. This trend offers an insight into what can be expected in the long term – a pattern of peaks and troughs.
While this current wave is not projected to reach the same height as the 2022 wave, which had case numbers in the mid-8000s and almost 600 weekly hospitalizations, it is still a cause for concern. The population is highly exposed and highly vaccinated, yet there is no evidence of a game-changing new subvariant driving the surge.
The latest sampling of the virus shows a mix of Omicron subvariants, with the EG.5 or “Eris” type and its relatives contributing to more than half of the sequenced genomes, indicating their role in the spread.
As Christmas approaches, it remains to be seen whether infection rates will continue to rise. Wastewater detections have shown a slight decline, suggesting a potential peak in certain parts of New Zealand with regional variations. However, the overall pattern is clear – the country is facing a large wave that requires a proactive response.
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker emphasizes the need for a national approach in managing peak periods. This includes promoting boosters, providing support for self-isolation, and implementing consistent policies for ventilation standards and mask use in healthcare settings.
In the long run, New Zealand must act on the information provided by extensive surveillance systems and invest in strategies that address the current challenges while preparing for future pandemics. A dedicated center for disease control, similar to those in the US and Australia, has been suggested as a vital step towards better pandemic preparedness.