New modelling suggests New Zealand’s Omicron outbreak will be large, with daily hospital admissions reaching up to 800 people in the coming months, putting a "significant strain" on the country’s health system.
That’s according to modelling released by Te Pūnaha Matatini's Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa, which was carried out before the detection of Omicron in the community on January 23, 2022.
The data also showed that vaccination and booster rates would be crucial to how the current Covid-19 community outbreak developed.
Even with high booster uptake and the public health measures in place such as mask-wearing, a modelled outbreak which started around February 1, 2022, saw peak hospital admissions ranging from 200 to 800 per day.
It also showed peak demand for hospital beds ranging from 800 to 3300, “depending on assumed transmission rates”.
“The only reason we can even contemplate outbreaks totalling hundreds of thousands of cases now is that we have high vaccination rates, drastically reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death,” Professor Michael Plank said.
“It’s hard to overstate how effective vaccines are in blunting the health impacts of Covid-19.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Tuesday if she expected the hospitalisation rates to be in the thousands, she said she was "cautious about giving any certainty" about what could happen in New Zealand.
"[But], what we have said is that we need to prepare ourselves for both low and high scenarios," Ardern said.
"Of course keep in mind we did a significant piece of work last year around Delta preparedness, for large numbers of cases."
Plank emphasised that for most people who are up to date with their vaccinations, the risk of getting severely ill with Omicron is very low.
“But Omicron still has the potential to overwhelm healthcare systems because of the sheer number of cases it can cause in a short space of time.”
Modelling was based on scenarios comparable with recent outbreaks in London, South Australia and New York.
Because Omicron was now circulating in the community, Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa said the model would be calibrated using the country’s data, and re-run when more information on community transmission is available.