The government will today reveal changes it is making to the Covid-19 response as case numbers soar, and health and education figures report the disease is hitting their communities hard.
More than 70,000 people currently have the virus, although the actual number is thought to be much higher. There are more than 700 people in hospital and daily reports of deaths of people who have fallen ill with Covid-19 are now the norm.
Authorities continue to urge people to wear masks, get vaccinated and stay home if they are sick.
The Prime Minister said these are the three things today’s announcement will focus on and there will be no return to the red level of the traffic light system.
University of Otago immunologist Dianne Sika-Paotonu said while people might want the pandemic to be over, it is going nowhere and the wider spread of new variants is bringing devastating results.
“We have around 100 deaths associated with the pandemic that are still being reported each week, and unfortunately that is expected to continue.”
“Greater transmissibility [in the new variants] means more cases of Covid-19, leading to more sick people – more people end up in hospital intensive care units and unfortunately die. »
The most vulnerable are the hardest hit, especially the elderly, she said. morning report.
“At a time when our hospital and support systems and our primary care are under great pressure, the implications are not just for people with Covid-19, but also for others who may need help with this. time for other illnesses.
“Remember we have many vulnerable groups around us and at risk of being affected and adversely affected…this includes those who are immunocompromised, but also our Maori and Pasifika communities.”
Dr Sika-Paotonu expected new government measures to help fight the spread of the virus to include wider access to rapid antigen tests (RATs) and free masks, and said disease experts were also particularly interested in expanding access to booster shots, and a stronger mandate for mask-wearing in schools was introduced.
Federation of Principals President Cherie Taylor-Patel said greater access to masks and RATs “would be a good start”.
But what they needed most was specific advice from the health and education ministries on what schools could do if they were hit hard by a Covid-19 outbreak, including whether schools could close preventively for a few days.
“The message so far has been to try to keep the school open at all costs, but we have seen principals across the country doing a series of things to try to manage the waves of Covid, the waves of winter illnesses and staff shortage.
“I think we’re going to see principals turning to more systemic solutions that will work for their school context, things like short-term lockdowns, a regular list of age groups, or hybrid learning options. which they can switch to with minimal disruption … some schools are already doing this.”
Schools that made masks mandatory saw fewer illnesses, Taylor-Patel said.
Staff at an Ōtautahi school that had mandated masks for children in grades 4-6, but not younger students, noticed significantly less spread of Covid-19 among older students.
“What’s missing right now are the guidelines, the evidence-based health information, and the recommendations and support from these two ministries to give directors confidence that they’re making the right call for their communities… [principals] are not health experts.”