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The omicron outbreak is like nothing before seen in New Zealand. (Getty Images)
The omicron outbreak is like nothing before seen in New Zealand. (Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 21, 2022

The big omicron crunch

The omicron outbreak is like nothing before seen in New Zealand. (Getty Images)
The omicron outbreak is like nothing before seen in New Zealand. (Getty Images)

New Zealand’s health systems are bending under the weight of an unprecedented number of Covid-19 cases, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

The number of new Covid-19 cases is expected but staggering. Fuelled by the highly infectious omicron variant, more cases were reported yesterday alone in New Zealand than the country’s cumulative total over the first 13 months of the pandemic. As The Spinoff’s live updates reports, 2,522 new community cases were reported yesterday. Going back in time, New Zealand’s first Covid-19 cases was detected on Feb. 28, 2020. It would take until April 5, 2021 for the country to report its 2,522nd case. The country has now detected over 31,000 cases, nearly half of them over the past three weeks.

Testing capacity is at a ‘crisis’ point due to non-symptomatic demand. The country’s lab system is currently facing two compounding problems, along with near-record demand for tests, the number of tests coming back positive has smashed through the 5% warning threshold set by the World Health Organisation. That means some of the easy ways to boost capacity are unavailable. The problem is acute in Auckland, where most new cases are being detected. As Newshub reports, labs put out public pleas over the weekend for people without symptoms not to seek tests. To ease demand, One News details how the government is scrapping the day three testing requirement for close contacts in Auckland. Instead of PCR tests, many Aucklanders will also be tested on rapid tests from today.

The tourism industry warns it’s in ‘crisis’ as domestic travel disappears. The association that speaks for Aotearoa’s tourism operators put out an unusually blunt warning on Friday: These are the worst trading conditions yet for the country’s tourism industry. Worse than a national lockdown. Rather than a slowdown after Christmas, domestic travel all but stopped and there’s no massive government support scheme this time. Owners in the hospitality industry told RNZ that the government is to blame because it “has over-cooked the fear and the health rules”. They’ve called for an end to self-isolation for cases and international travellers.

Facing omicron, New Zealand’s political debate is pulling apart. So is health advice. Act’s David Seymour said yesterday that the government should end vaccine mandates, using the term “segregation” for the first time to describe Covid-19 rules. He then repeated it twice. To back his position, Seymour claimed vaccination rates have no impact on infection rates under omicron. Experts told the NZ Herald that the Act leader’s amateur analysis of health data was “naïve, irresponsible and even misinformation”. A more surprising intervention came from the medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, who spoke on RNZ and described omicron as “much more like a common cold” and said it should be treated as such. He concluded the prime minister should tell people that “Covid is OK” and get over it. A professor who got out of hospital and is still struggling with Covid doesn’t think it’s OK at all, as The Southland Times reports.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.

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