Not the time for being over Covid

Prof Michael Baker. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Prof Michael Baker. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Fingers crossed that Dunedin’s big weekend of rugby and revelling will not turn out to be the superspreader event for Covid-19 and other winter ailments feared by health officials.

Crossing fingers is not scientific of course, but have many of us given up listening to scientists when it comes to the pandemic, or even the surge in flu-like illnesses?

We may be horrified to see the pressure on our hospitals, schools and businesses as Covid-19 and flu cough and splutter their way around the country but that does not seem to be translating into all of us taking more care.

We might be over Covid, in the sense we are sick of having to concern ourselves with it, but that does not mean it is going away. Far from it. Indeed, there is increasing concern that with the likely more transmissible BA.5 variant on the rise and the surge in the number of daily cases reported last week, we are at the start of the second Omicron wave which could have a big impact on the over-60s.

Maybe those who have had Covid-19 and been fortunate enough to escape serious illness interpret their experience as universal, consider the worst is past and conclude it is not all that serious.

However, it is worth remembering that about one in a thousand people who get Covid 19 die from it and there are an average of 16 deaths a day in New Zealand.

As University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker says, that death rate continued over a year would mean well over 5000 deaths. By comparison, last year the road toll was 319.

Mask-wearing in any indoor setting where we are not with family is something Prof Baker considers is essential to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory infections, and he would like to see mandated mask wearing at schools, rather than it being left to individual schools to decide.

Education about mask wearing could also do with being ramped up, in our observation. It is not uncommon to see people on public transport or wandering about shops with their noses hanging out of their masks or masks only covering their chins.

The Covid-19 vaccinations may not be perfect, but they are still our best defence against hospitalisation.

Getting that message accepted by all of those who received their first two shots has been patchy. The first booster has only been received by about 75% of those eligible in the Otago/Southland area, similar to many other parts of the country. (Second boosters are also available six months after the first one to those over 50, health and disability workers over 30 and for some younger people considered vulnerable.)

People are also being urged to get flu vaccinations, and the eligibility for free ones has been widened to include children aged 3-12 after a surge in hospitalisations of pre-schoolers with flu.

Staying home when you are suffering from any respiratory illness is ideal too, but it must be recognised some workers who have run out of sick leave and cannot afford to take leave without pay will feel they have no option but to turn up for work.

If the surge in Covid cases continues, stretching the rubber bands in the health system even more, it is hard to tell if the Government would be prepared to impose any further restrictions, such as taking us back into the Red traffic light setting. Fears of a backlash and non-compliance seem to weigh heavy.

It may be, in the words of Dusty Springfield, "thinkin’ and a-prayin, wishin’ and a-hopin’" two weeks of school holidays, even though that comes with increased domestic travel and extra visitors from overseas, will not result in further mayhem for health services.

Case numbers, hospitalisations, and the death count will show if that was sensible.