Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Melbourne epidemiologist says NZ will easily see a hundred thousand cases

A Melbourne epidemiologist believes New Zealand will “easily” see the number of projected Omicron cases top 100,000 in the coming weeks.

Earlier today Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the daily case numbers could potentially reach “tens of thousands”.

“For everybody who gets it, there will be extra people who get it. It will start off slow and grow quickly.”

However, University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said New Zealand could see 100,000 to 150,000 infections per day.

“But with Omicron a lot of the infections are asymptomatic so you might see something like 20 to 35 thousand reported cases per day at your peak,” he said.

Speaking with Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan, Blakely said while the country has suppressed past outbreaks, Omicron brings new challenges.

“I actually think whilst there may be some unpreparedness in some parts of New Zealand like with Rat (rapid antigen) tests the actual plan you have in place looks really good.”

Rats are generally taken with a front-of-nose swab and detect the presence of specific proteins on the outer portion of the virus, such as the spike protein.

There are roughly 4.6 million test kits in the country, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today.

After announcing the country would shift to the red traffic light setting tonight, Ardern said rat testing would be incorporated into a new three-phase Omicron plan to be detailed on Wednesday.

However, given the current high vaccination rates, Blakely said Omicron is “much less severe” compared to past variants.

“If I get an infection of Omicron the chance of that killing me is one to five per cent chance of what it would be if I got Delta six months ago.”

Blakely’s message to New Zealanders was not to panic.

“No need to panic, the way to manage this and I think New Zealand can aim for a maximum of say 600 people in hospital on the worst day whenever that is.”

While Victoria got to a maximum of 1200 people in hospital, Blakely believes New Zealand can do better by “flattening the curve”.

Looking further into the outbreak, he believes the next steps will be to reduce morbidity and mortality, and he said by doing this those most vulnerable should “hunker down and keep out of society” when infection rates rise.

The Ministry of Health has published guidelines on how people with Covid could isolate from their household members, but it wasn’t clear whether that would enable household members to complete their 10-day quarantine during the case’s 14-day isolation.

Meaning the new Omicron protocols could see whānau isolating for up to 24 days.

In terms of isolation periods, Blakely said the current plan is ideal for an elimination strategy but he said is no longer the goal in a world with Omicron.

“You can probably let people out of isolation after seven days perhaps after five days if you’ve got the real need to get people back into the workforce.”

This is because, after seven days, the chance of being infectious is less, Blakely said.

While the chance of still being infectious in the days of elimination was a risk, Blakely said it is an “acceptable risk” when Omicron is spreading around.

“In the days when we were trying to eliminate that was unacceptable but when we know Omicron is spreading around that is an acceptable risk to go back out into the population.”

Speaking from his personal experience with the Omicron variant, Blakely said it was like a “severe flu”.

“It does knock you round a bit but it’s not too bad.”

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