Be as prepared as possible for Covid’s return

Various devices can be used to over or under-emphasise the information contained in graphs.

However, the message in the graph of daily reported Covid-19 infections in Australia is unmistakable and undeniable.

It trundles along in single or double figures until a slight rise in August when the Delta variant started to spread in the community.

But as December, and Omicron, come around, the graph begins a startling, stratospheric ascent, as the number of new Covid-19 cases — literally — soar off the chart.

On December 15, New South Wales recorded its first 1000+ case day, a fortnight later that state sped past the 10,000+ case a day mark and just a day later it recorded its first 20,000+ case day.

New cases in New South Wales on Wednesday were 34,759, but the suspicions of epidemiologists and public health officials that this was the tip of the iceberg were borne out yesterday.

As well as cases reported by the authorities, a new app which allows self-reporting of positive Covid-19 cases detected by rapid antigen testing at home came on stream in the state, and in just a few hours more than 92,000 infections were uploaded.

Even allowing for some possible duplication between official and unofficial test results, the figure is a stark and immediate warning from New Zealand’s closest geographic neighbour of the havoc Omicron will likely wreak if — or more likely, when — it breaks out from MIQ and into the community.

Australia as a whole reported its first day with 100,000+ cases yesterday, and more than 630,000 cases have been reported in the last week — that is roughly equivalent to half the population of the South Island having contracted the pandemic disease in just seven days.

Omicron may not be as devastating as that when its claws get a grip in this country; New Zealand’s higher vaccination rate, smaller population and widespread diligence in following public health advice will be important weapons in our fight against this particular variant.

But it has the potential to be crippling to the already much pressurised health system.

New Zealanders still do not have ready access to rapid antigen testing — as the Prime Minister’s partner, embarrassingly, found out this week — so exhausted Covid swabbers and lab technicians face being swamped by likely unprecedented demand.

Medical centres will have to monitor the health of dozens of patients riding out Covid cases at home.

And although Omicron seems to be less lethal than its close relative Delta, its vastly greater infectivity rate means more people getting sick and a higher proportion of cases requiring hospital level care.

Reports have already emerged from across the Tasman of patients with other healthcare needs, such as birthing mothers, being unable to access vitally needed immediate care because doctors, nurses and ambulance crews are all busy with Covid-19 cases.

Southern health officials revealed this week that they have just rewritten their pandemic preparedness plans in response to the firestorm unfolding on the other side of the ditch — and not a moment too soon by the look of it.

Next week New Zealand begins vaccinating 5 to 11-year-olds against Covid-19, a welcome development although it does raise the question whether work to build this vital line of defence should have begun much earlier.

Booster vaccinations are now also available for hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the southern region, who heeded the call to get vaccinated as early as possible: 40% of eligible New Zealanders have already had it.

Although vaccination may not prevent someone getting Covid-19, it makes it much less likely that one will.

If a vaccinated person does contract Covid-19, that added layer of protection should ensure they are less infectious, suffer milder symptoms, and are less likely to need hospital care.

Case numbers in Australia are yet another alert, despite the caterwauling of the naysayers, that Covid-19 is a real threat and an immediate danger, and that sensible people should be as prepared as possible for its return to our community.