Thousands of people will be infected with Covid-19 every week even with vaccination levels at 90 per cent, and hospitals face being overwhelmed once restrictions are eased and borders opened, the Government says.
Modelling showed there could be up to 5200 Covid cases a week – just in the Auckland and Northland region - at 90 per cent vaccination rates, Ministry of Health chief medical officer Andrew Connolly said on Thursday. The figure doesn’t include the rest of the country south of the Bombay Hills.
His comments came as the Government unveiled its new strategy to eventually manage between 90 and 95 per cent of Covid infections at home, and not in MIQ, under the care of general practitioners and nurses.
Still, the 5 to 10 per cent of patients sick enough to go to hospital would place a lot of pressure on the health system, Connolly said.
“In broad terms it has a very big impact on the health system for three reasons: the number of people who will come into hospitals, the time they may spend in hospitals and the fact that this is such an infectious disease we have to keep them separated from other patients,” he said.
“The system here is well-prepared. Any system will become overwhelmed if the numbers become too great.”
Between 0.2 and 0.4 per cent of Delta patients will be sick enough to need to stay in the intensive care unit, while the others may need a “short, sharp burst” of hospital-level care with special masks to give high doses of oxygen, he said.
People with mild infections isolating at home will get daily monitoring and those who need it will be checked with a pulse oximeter – an infrared finger clip monitor.
The Government was also investigating facilities for people with mild Covid infections who may not be able to isolate at home, Health Minister Andrew Little said.
The new regime would be rolled out when vaccination rates are “satisfactory”, he said.
“Once we get to satisfactory vaccination levels across all population groups then we can start to relax restrictions, open borders, people can move around more freely,” he said.
Immigration officials were working on plans to speed up the process to get critical care workers into the country, Little said.
New Zealand has a chronic nursing shortage, and a shortage of ICU nurses.
General Practice New Zealand chair Dr Jeff Lowe, who is advising the Government on the strategy, said general practices were well-placed to take on the work. A lot of it would be via phone, he said.