New variants could see 'unacceptable' number of Covid deaths

Source: 1News

A top epidemiologist says New Zealand could be facing a yearly Covid-19 death toll that's 15 times that of the annual road toll as cases of more-infectious Omicron subvariants ramp up.

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Professor Michael Baker told Breakfast that new subvariants would continue to emerge that would likely raise "unacceptable" levels of death.

"It's a whole succession of new variants that are coming through, and it's just showing us that the Omicron variant will keep on producing these subvariants, that are more infectious, and therefore they spread more rapidly and cause more cases," he said.

"That means our cases and hospitalisations have risen by about 50% in the last 10 days, and we're also seeing more deaths, we're moving up to around 15 a day."

Baker said there had to be ways to "turn down infection rates" of the virus.

"This is actually going to be grim if it carries on. It could be 5000 deaths a year from this infection, and that's 15 times the road toll - it would add 15% to our annual mortality rate."

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said it had detected the more infectious Omicron BA.2.75 subvariant for the first time in New Zealand.

It comes as Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall said the BA.5 subvariant is predicted to become the dominant strain in the country in the coming weeks, with reinfections expected to make up a substantial proportion of cases.

READ MORE: Immunity-evading Covid variant will trigger wave - experts

Meanwhile, over 150 health experts have called for the Government to introduce more restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19. Recommendations included making masks mandatory in schools over winter, giving people greater access to high-quality masks, and pushing for better ventilation indoors.

But on Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern said she had "no expectation at this stage" of moving the country to the Red traffic light setting.

"We know that what makes a difference is mask use and vaccinations. Again, these are restrictions that are not widely used outside of New Zealand."

The PM suggested that there was a "real question mark" over whether there would be any impact from tighter restrictions at the more restricted traffic light level.