By Māori Covid-19 Analyst Dr Rawiri Taonui, in partnership with Te Ao Māori News.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant is precipitating a huge 6th Covid-19 Wave that will engulf the world over the next month. The new surge has seen two massive new records with 1.016 million cases on 23 December followed by 1.232 million on 28 December surpassing the previous record of 904,000 cases during the 4th Wave.
There were 4.99 million new cases worldwide between 20 and 26 December. Europe accounted for more than half the total, with 2.84 million. The United States has the highest number of cases of any country with 1.18 million.
The numbers in Europe and the United States highlight an anomaly where Western governments, including New Zealand, frequently ban travel from black/brown countries but not from each other despite the main driver of international spread being between European countries.
New Zealand and Māori Situation
Five days ago, I wrote a column saying Aotearoa should watch out for several pocket-sized Covid-19 outbreaks in holiday spots between Christmas and the New Year, with the risk for Māori being if infections made their way into under-vaccinated Māori communities. I also wrote that it is likely that Māori will be over 50% of cases by mid-January.
Despite declining total and Māori new cases, this risk remains because Māori double vaccinations at 74% remain 14% below the national figure of 88.6%, a gap that will not close fast enough before Omicron begins to spread more widely in New Zealand.
New cases in New Zealand continued to decline for five consecutive weeks to Monday 27 December (-5.4%, -29.0%, -27.1%, -26.2%, -21.9%).
There were just 18 cases on 28 December the lowest in three months since 28 September when there were just eight.
Also, on 28 December there were only five Māori cases the lowest since 28 September when there were just four.
The lower cases reflect our overall higher vaccination rates relative to other countries and the vigilance of Māori communities concerning the opening of the Auckland border on 15 December.
District Health Boards (DHBs) and Even Ethnic Cases
The pattern of cases during Christmas reflects the pattern of ‘holiday travel.’ Māori and Pacific have been alternatively the highest or second-highest daily cases over the last two weeks but by a narrower margin compared with new case numbers in the Asian and Pākehā communities.
New cases are concentrated in the three Auckland DHBs (Auckland, Waitematā and Manukau) and other northern holiday areas, including Northland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and the Lakes DHB. This reiterates the risk if cases breach into under-vaccinated Māori communities.
Māori 85.7% of Deaths in December
Māori have been six or 85.7% of seven deaths during December. This includes the two youngest deaths since Covid-19 arrived in New Zealand, a person in their 30s and a nine-year-old boy. The rising proportion of Māori deaths despite declining cases is a reminder of the higher risk that Covid-19 and its variants present for Māori.
First Omicron Community Case
A total of 71 cases of Omicron have entered Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ). There are 83 current active cases in MIQ. There is a higher risk of breaches into the community whenever there are more than 30 active cases in MIQ.
Overnight the Ministry of Health has reported our first cases of Omicron in the community. This case highlights the weakness of the new MIQ system which requires seven days of MIQ isolation followed by three days of home isolation. The man concerned entered New Zealand on 16 December. He returned three negative tests and left MIQ to self-isolate at home for three days on December 23.
He took his day-nine Covid test on Christmas Day, December 25, but rather than wait to receive his test result, he went shopping and night-clubbing in Auckland on Christmas Day, and shopping and visiting two restaurants on Boxing Day before receiving his positive test result on 27 December.
Omicron is a real threat to Māori communities. The variant is hyper-infectious and able to evade antibodies from previously recovered Covid-19 patients. Data suggests that vaccines are less effective against Omicron. Current data also suggests the variant causes milder sickness and fewer deaths. Nevertheless, it should be considered a major risk to unvaccinated and vulnerable populations.
Traffic Light System Light Changes
At midnight today, Tāmaki Makaurau, Taupō, Rotorua Lakes District, Kawerau, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitīkei, Whanganui and Ruapehu district will move to orange in the traffic light setting.
Given the continuing low vaccination rates in the Bay of Plenty, Whanganui, te Tai Rāwhiti, Waikato, Lakes, Taranaki and Hawkes Bay, and yesterday’s Omicron breach into the community, this is a mistake. Te Tai Tokerau will remain at red.
Noho haumaru, stay safe.
Dr Rawiri Taonui