The record number of cases does not show the true spread of Omicron, an epidemiologist has said, warning the true number could be up to 10 times higher than official figures.
On Sunday, 810 cases were reported, nearly double the previous day.
University of Otago epidemiologist professor Michael Baker said while the figure was not anything New Zealanders were used to, the true number could be closer to 8,000.
“Most infected people, especially when heavily vaccinated, will have very few symptoms and many will have no symptoms, but they can still transmit the virus.
“For every recorded case, we could have another five people who have very mild symptoms who are not being tested.
He said a delay in recording infections would also skew the figures.
“When the curve rises very quickly, it’s still telling us about infections that happened maybe a week ago, it’s still looking back in time, because people exposed and incubating an infection take an average of three days, then a few more days to get sick enough to go get tested, and then the result has to come.
“And when you put those two factors together, the actual number of infections in the community is probably an order of magnitude higher than the numbers we’re seeing in the data count…about ten times higher.”
He said the move to phase two of the government’s Omicron management plan, unveiled last month, was imminent.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of choice, short of very strong measures which I think people don’t consider proportionate at this stage.”
In phase two, the focus remains on slowing the spread, but also on balancing the needs of essential services, businesses and the economy.
The self-isolation period is reduced from 14 days to 10 for positive cases, and contacts must stay at home for seven days.
Critical workers who are close contacts may not even have to self-isolate at all, if they return a negative rapid antigen test.
Resources would also be deployed more strategically, with the government promising to closely monitor vulnerable communities and those at high risk of serious illness.
Associate Dean and University of Otago immunologist Dianne Sika-Paotonu said the evidence and experience clearly demonstrated that Maori and Pacific peoples had fallen into this camp and that it was more important than never have the government listened to advice on how best to protect them.
“They need to trust our Maori and Pacific health teams and leaders … ensuring that the work undertaken is appropriate for our communities.”
Dr Sika-Paotonu said there was still a lot of work to be done to increase Pacific Maori and Tamariki vaccine rates as the virus spread.
“Forty-five percent of the general population [5-11] population received their first dose of vaccine, while for Maori and Pacific, the vaccination levels for the first doses are 26% and 36% respectively. So there are inequalities that are evident there. »
Baker said the Omicron wave would be relatively short, but intense.
“People who are older and have underlying illnesses need to think in the next week or two about reducing social contact and if that’s not the case, those are the people who make sure to wear a mask very efficient.
“When we come out on the other side, there will be a lot less virus circulating and it will disappear quite quickly. But it will still be several weeks, probably three months before we get to that. So we will have to be extra careful during this period to protect the most vulnerable people.”
Health Minister Andrew Little has repeatedly said that New Zealand is well placed for an outbreak of Omicron – and that the care capacity at intensive care and hospital level is there.
However, nursing organization kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the nurses felt differently.
“There are the same kind of emotions that we were feeling almost two years ago, being scared, feeling under-equipped, under-prepared and people not listening to what’s really going on.”
She said nurses were in an anxious state of preparedness and many had been asked to cancel furlough or any professional development plans until the surge subsided.
“It also makes nurses think twice when they go to their own social gatherings, whether or not they should go, whether or not they should go somewhere else… people make these conscious decisions about whether they want to attend some of the social functions or not.
“It’s tense and these are difficult times.”