Daily Omicron cases could number tens of thousands – Hipkins

Source: 1News

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says daily Omicron case numbers could be into the tens of thousands within weeks.

Covid-19 Reponse Minister Chris Hipkins.

"That is certainly the potential," he told Newstalk ZB on Monday.

"If you look around the world that’s certainly what’s happened in a lot of places."

He said in the early stages community spread would "start off small" but "grow quickly".

READ MORE: Up to half of NZ could become infected with Omicron - modeller

Hipkins said there would be pressure on the health system as a result, but boosters would be key in easing it.

"The best thing that every New Zealander can do to ease that is to get their booster dose as soon as they’re eligible for it."

To date, 974,784 booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given.

Covid-19 data modeller Michael Plank has said up to half of New Zealand could get Omicron if the community spread "really gets going".

That could take about four months from when cases started to rise exponentially, with a potential peak after eight weeks, and more people infected on the way down, he said.

The Prime Minister said the Government was planning for scenarios of up to 50,000 cases a day to make sure it was well prepared, but stressed it was not based on modelling.

Auckland's three district health boards were predicting around 1800 cases a day for the city at the outbreak peak, expecting to see that in March.

Hipkins told Newstalk ZB current contact tracing and testing was "still feasible" with a small number of community cases, but this would change as cases climbed.

READ MORE: Ardern outlines 'phased approach' to Omicron strategy

"As the case numbers grow, the contact tracing approach will change. Also what we ask of people ... what we do around testing will change," he said.

"If you’re getting tens of thousands of cases a day it may not be feasible to test everybody immediately. So in some cases if you’ve just got mild symptoms please stay home for that."

Currently anyone with cold or flu symptoms is asked to get tested, along with those who have been deemed contacts. Getting tested also applies to some locations of interest.

"At different phases, different contact tracing, different testing requirements will apply," Hipkins explained.

"So in some cases right now, we continue as we have for some time. We contact trace, we test extensively, and so on.

"Once we get to the point where we’re dealing with a bigger number of cases those will change, and as the case numbers grow further, those will change again to make sure we’re putting our resources to where they can make the biggest difference."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined this on Sunday, saying there is a three-stage plan to manage the spread of the variant in the community.

While there are less than 1000 new cases a day, Ardern said New Zealand would be in the first stage of the plan.

In this phase, health officials would have "significant capacity" to continue trying to stamp out Omicron outbreaks using the same methods as they do now for Delta.

This would mean continuing PCR testing in the community and contact tracing of positive cases. But, rapid antigen testing would be "integrated into [testing] sites, as required".

Ardern added the first stage would continue with the extended isolation requirements for cases and known contacts that were introduced on Wednesday.

The second stage would be a "transition" phase where health officials would identify cases with a greater risk of severe illness from the Omicron variant.

A third stage would then come into effect when there are thousands of new cases daily. This stage would see changes to isolation requirements and the definition of contacts.

Case numbers to justify moving into the third stage aren't expected for several weeks, according to Ardern.

Director-General of Heath Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall are expected to give more detail about stages two and three in a press conference on Wednesday.