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Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: As deaths rise, one million eligible Kiwis yet to be boosted

New Zealand’s Covid-19 death toll has reached 269 after a further 11 virus-related fatalities were reported yesterday, as one expert warns of the big gaps in the country’s response to the Omicron variant.

Yesterday there were 12,882 community cases of Covid-19 reported and 861 people were in hospital, including 21 in intensive care.

Details were available for nine of yesterday’s 11 deaths: two people were from the Auckland region, five were from Waikato, and one each from MidCentral and Nelson Marlborough.

Three people were in their 70s, three were in their 80s and three were in their 90s.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with their whānau and friends at this sad time,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Professor Michael Plank, of the University of Canterbury and Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa, told RNZ he expected the 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],” Plank said.

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

Plank said there 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.

University of Otago epidemiologist professor Michael Baker said predictions that 300 to 500 people could die of Covid in New Zealand were “very plausible”.

Asked what were New Zealand’s Achilles’ heels, he said there were two big, entirely preventable gaps.

Just over half of 5 to 11-year-olds were vaccinated. The good news was they had low mortality, but the bad news was that they were susceptible to long Covid.

Of children, aged 5 to 11, 53.9 per cent have had one dose and 14.7 per cent have had two.

The second concerning gap was that almost one million eligible New Zealanders had not had their booster.

To date, 72.7 per cent of those people eligible have had their booster dose. This figure includes people who were vaccinated overseas.

“This is absolutely lifesaving for people. At the very least it may prevent you having a miserable illness for a couple of weeks.”

Just over 95 per cent of the eligible population had been double vaccinated.

For Māori, aged 12 and older, 88 per cent have had their second dose and 57.8 per cent of those eligible have been boosted.

For Pacific peoples, these figures are 96.4 per cent and 59.3 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, like those in the North Island, schools in the South Island are continuing to grapple with Covid-19 cases.

New Ministry of Education data show 83 per cent of the 287 schools in the Canterbury region, which includes Chatham Islands, are managing cases. However, the daily cases for Canterbury and Chatham Island schools have decreased from 164 two weeks ago to 156 yesterday.

Seventy four per cent of the 231 schools in the Otago/Southland region and 72 per cent of the 127 schools in the Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast region are also affected.

There were 861 people in hospital yesterday with an average age of 59. The hospitalisations werein Northland (32), North Shore (141), Middlemore (188), Auckland (144), Waikato (77), Bay of Plenty (40), Lakes (8), Tairāwhiti (3), Hawke’s Bay (43), Taranaki (14), Whanganui (5), MidCentral (23), Hutt Valley (17), Capital and Coast (31), Wairarapa (1), Nelson Marlborough (11), Canterbury (53), South Canterbury (4),West Coast (2) and the Southern (24) region.

The seven-day rolling average for Covid-19 community cases is 16,102 – this is a down from the seven-day average to March 21 of 17,124. There are 112, 701 active community cases in the country.

Of yesterday’s reported cases, 2300 were in Auckland. The rest were in Northland (445), Waikato (1215), Bay of Plenty (662), Lakes (360), Hawke’s Bay (701), MidCentral (728), Whanganui (291), Taranaki (544), Tairāwhiti (179), Wairarapa (176), Capital and Coast (918), Hutt Valley (498), Nelson Marlborough (506), Canterbury (2119), South Canterbury (235), Southern (968) and the West Coast (32).

The location of five cases was unknown, the ministry said.

A total of 52 cases detected at the border were reported yesterday.

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