- New Zealand set to tighten Covid restrictions as cases soar over 11,000 a day
- Other measures being flagged are handing out more free masks and RATs
- The country is unlikely to move to the harshest setting of Covid restrictions at this stage
- Concern wastewater analysis shows that many Covid cases are being missed
New Zealand is set to tighten its Covid restrictions and will hand out more free masks and rapid antigen tests as the virus threaten to run out of control.
Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall is expected to announce the measures on Thursday as the country battles an outbreak that is seeing more than 11,000 new cases a day.
The move to hand out more RATs is aimed at getting more people to test and isolate if they are found to have the disease.
A masked person waits for a bus in Auckland as New Zealand battles a rampaging new outbreak of Covid
Presently free RATs are only given to those who test positive for the disease, have been a close household contact, are newly arrived in the country, or are critical workers.
New Zealand has a ‘traffic light’ system to grade Covid warnings and currently, the country sits on Orange.
This means Kiwis must wear a mask in many indoor settings but otherwise are free to live their day-to-day lives while being encouraged ‘to protect vulnerable communities.
At this stage, the government has not indicated the country will move to the ‘Red’ setting, which is the highest level of Covid restrictions.
A woman gets her daily exercise in Auckland while wearing a face mask, which under the current New Zealand settings only have to be worn in some indoor settings
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked that people remain vigilant in wearing masks, getting booster shots, and isolating themselves if they had the disease.
She said the measures were straightforward.
‘(Isolate) if you have Covid – that markedly brings down the infection rates of others,’ she said.
‘Your household isolating with you is equally important. Mask use and vaccination. Those are three things that will have some of the biggest impacts on our numbers.’
‘They are the most important things we can be doing right now, far and away above the extra measure [of] gathering limits which in this environment will not have the same impact.’
New Zealand Prime Minister has urged Kiwis to wear masks, get tested for Covid and isolate if found positive
Ms. Ardern, who was speaking from the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji, said Ms. Varells would outline further measures on Thursday.
Health authorities are concerned many Covid-19 cases are not being picked up because wastewater testing indicated a wider prevalence than was being reported.
On Wednesday New Zealand had 11,464 new cases of Covid reported in the community and 29 Covid-related deaths.
The seven-day rolling average of community cases is 9710 – this time last week it was 7591.
Staff wearing personal protective equipment check the temperature of patients in front of a medical centre in Christchurch, New Zealand as fears grow a Covid outbreak could overwhelm health resources
There were 67,926 active cases in the community.
Covid-19 modelers say community cases could reach 20,000 in the coming weeks, which will likely mean many more deaths.
Dr. Michael Plank told the New Zealand Herald that the country was ‘definitely in a second wave’ putting a strain on medical resources.
‘It’s got potential to be quite a serious one. Hospitalizations are rising sharply now and that’s concerning because the health system was already stressed with winter illness and flu,’ he said.
Dr. Plank said mask use would remain critical for flattening the curve of the outbreak.
‘We are probably still better at using masks here than many places who I think have fallen out of the habit,’ he said.
‘That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement because there is and masks will be crucially important for flattening the wave.’