Ministry health

Watch live: Department of Health stands up as Covid-19 patients flood hospitals

Hospitals across the country are feeling the pressure as more Covid-19 patients need care while many doctors and nurses are on leave to self-isolate.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay and Department of Health Chief Technology and Change Officer Michael Dreyer provide an update on the country’s capacity for RAT, PCR and the number of hospitalizations.

Watch the Covid-19 update here:

Today the Department of Health is reporting 23,894 new cases of Covid-19, including 9,881 in Auckland.

McElnay says Aucklanders yesterday recorded their highest ever rapid antigen results, 43,735 – around 25 per cent more than the previous highest day last Monday.

She says there are 756 people in hospital with Covid-19. The true number of cases in the community is expected to be considerably higher, but this is difficult to assess when using rapid antigen tests as the primary test. This is why the ministry is emphasizing hospitalizations.

The number of hospitalizations in Auckland is about the same as yesterday, she says, and the number of intensive care units is also similar to yesterday. DHBs report continued strain on staff, particularly with all-night coverage, she says, but occupancy levels remain manageable.

McElnay says the lesser severity compared to the Delta outbreak is strongly linked to the highly vaccinated status of New Zealand’s population.

Unvaccinated people are four times overrepresented in current hospitalization data, she says. Only 3% of eligible people over the age of 12 received no vaccine dose, but 17% of people hospitalized since community transmission of Omicron was detected were unvaccinated.

Just 1.6% of cases were in intensive care on Sunday March 6, compared to 13.6% in intensive care on November 10 during the Delta outbreak last year, when the percentage was highest.

McElnay says health services are stretched, with large numbers of staff having to self-isolate.

Doctors are stepping in to help cover nursing shifts at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, which is struggling with critical staff shortages.

There are nearly 200 people with Covid-19 in hospital and hundreds of frontline staff due to the virus.

And Hawke’s Bay Hospital has had to reduce some of its services and operations, as the number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital increases.

McElnay says one thing put in place to address this is to allow essential healthcare workers who have Covid to return to work earlier than usual if their absence would mean an essential healthcare service would cease to operate.

“This can only happen if the case meets strict criteria and all steps are taken to protect the safety and well-being of the staff themselves, their patients and other staff.”

She says there are two routes available to these people – critical healthcare workers can return six days after two negative RAT tests, and the second allows Covid-positive staff to return to work in wards where all patients are equally Covid-positives with no stand-down period.

McElnay says it keeps the healthcare system running.

More soon…