NZ 'likely' to reach 170-180 cases per day in 2-3 weeks' time

Kendall Hutt
Source: 1News

New Zealand is "likely" to reach 170 to 180 cases per day in about two to three weeks, but the number of those that are vaccinated will determine the burden on hospitals, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

Shania Dod collects a sample at a United Memorial Medical Centre Covid-19 testing site.

He explained on Thursday afternoon this was due to the current R value — the average number of people an infected person transmits the virus to — remaining at 1.2 to 1.3.

An R value above 1 indicates the outbreak is growing and Bloomfield said the 1.2 to 1.3 value means there is a doubling in the number of new Covid-19 cases detected every 10 to 12 days. 

"What is most important is what proportion of those cases has been vaccinated, because that will be material in terms of how many require hospital care."

Asked by 1News if health authorities were expecting cases to have a higher vaccination rate, Bloomfield said he had seen modelling from colleagues in Auckland on Thursday which showed the proportion of community cases who are vaccinated was increasing over the course of the outbreak. 

More than 1500 cases in the outbreak are unvaccinated  and Bloomfield pointed out only 1.7 per cent of those hospitalised are vaccinated. 

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 22: New Zealand Director-General Dr. Ashley Bloomfield speaks at the Pipitea Marae vaccination centre where he received his first vaccination for COVID-19 on August 22, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. All of New Zealand is subject to Alert Level 4 restrictions until at least 11:59 pm Tuesday, August 24. Cabinet will meet on Monday to review the restrictions. Under COVID-19 Alert Level 4 measures, people are required to stay at home in their bubble other than for essential reasons, with travel severely limited. All non-essential businesses are closed, including bars, restaurants, cinemas and playgrounds. All indoor and outdoor events are banned, while schools have switched to online learning. Essential services remain open, including supermarkets and pharmacies. (Photo by Ross Giblin-Pool/Getty Images)

The 170 to 180 cases per day was a figure put forward by Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay last week. 

She said this was the figure which would "start to really put pressure on the system as a whole" when she was asked about contact tracing capacity on October 14. 

University of Canterbury modeller Professor Michael Plank told 1News on October 13 the R value meant New Zealand would see about 150 new cases per day by about early November .

"If that trend continues, and if we do end up at that 150 cases per day mark, we’d be seeing about 100 people needing to go to hospital for Covid-19 each week.

"That would start to put a very significant strain on our healthcare systems," he said.

Hospital workers treating a Covid-19 patient in the ICU (file).

However, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on October 14 the hospitalisation rate remained "relatively low", reiterating this on Thursday when he said ICU numbers were "reasonably steady". 

Bloomfield chimed in and said ICU hospitalisations — seven of Thursday's 46 cases in hospital are in ICU or HDU — were consistent with modelling and case numbers. 

"We of course would not let ourselves get to a position where hospitals were overwhelmed," he said.

"The key thing here is how we use the resources available in the hospitals, but also in the community through our primary care providers, to look after as many people as possible outside of hospital."

Robertson said health authorities "do believe" any pressure in the health system would be "manageable". 

Bloomfield said there were two things Aucklanders could do to take pressure off hospital staff and these were to get vaccinated and continue to abide by eased Alert Level 3 restrictions. 

When asked this afternoon if the number of unlinked cases — 199 in the past 14 days as at 1pm on Thursday — would put contact tracers under pressure, both Bloomfield and Robertson said the focus of contact tracers had shifted from trying to link cases to finding their contacts, isolating them and getting them tested at this point in Auckland's outbreak.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The shift had occurred in the last couple of weeks, but Bloomfield assured the system was just as "intensive" and "timely" as before.

"What they’re focused on at the moment is getting to contacts, the linking and so on is no longer the most important job that they’ve got," Robertson commented.

On concerns over undetected chains of transmission, Bloomfield added a "key response" at this point of the outbreak was for high rates of testing to continue and for cases to continue to be found. 

Thanks to the latest modelling, he said the "sense" of health authorities at the moment was they were "finding most of the cases out there".

A total of 102 community cases were announced on Thursday, the highest daily number of Covid-19 cases to date in the country.

The highest number of hospitalisations, 46, was also recorded.