Ten Covid deaths in South over holiday period

Professor Michael Baker says New Zealand needs to shift to being a mask-using country Photo:...
University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker. Photo: University of Otago Wellington
Ten deaths from Covid-19 in the South during the holiday period shows the disease continues to be a killer, an epidemiologist says.

Figures from Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ) showed 77 deaths "attributable to Covid-19" occurred between December 23 and January 11 nationally, including 10 in the Southern region.

This meant the Southern region had the joint second-highest number of deaths for the period alongside Waikato, behind only Waitemata, which had 17 deaths, and ahead of much bigger regions such as Canterbury (8), Counties-Manukau (5), Auckland (3) and the Capital-Coast region (3).

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, there have been 3722 deaths attributable to Covid-19 nationwide, including 350 in the Southern region.

The number of new recorded cases of Covid-19 in the South has also risen to 554 for the week ending January 15, well up on the 466 reported in the week before.

University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker said this showed that even at this late stage of the pandemic, the virus continued to "gnaw away".

"This is not behaving like influenza.

"The virus is showing leaps in evolution.

"There are going to be peaks and troughs for the foreseeable future.

"Serious morbidity rates and long Covid-19 need to be monitored and acted upon."

Earlier this week, the government confirmed it was reviewing whether face masks and rapid antigen tests (RATs) would be offered free beyond the end of February, when the funded policy was due to end.

Prof Baker said a plan was needed to respond to respiratory illnesses.

"Personally, I'm a fan of RATs, and feel they should be made easily available to everyone.

"But there needs to be better guidance on when to test yourself and for what you should do with the result of it.

"For instance, we've held conferences where everyone has been RAT-tested before they arrive.

"That sounds laborious, but it would be pretty terrible for people to walk away from a conference with their only memory being that they caught Covid-19."

Prof Baker said during the height of the pandemic in 2020, New Zealand had one of the most coherent communications strategies about responding to Covid-19 in the world.

"But we seem to have flipped the other way recently.

"Many people are now utterly confused about what they should be doing.

"I am concerned we are getting complacent about it."

This was the fifth significant wave of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. There were ways to "flatten the curve", such as wearing masks on public transport and isolating when testing positive.