New Zealand is preparing to face up to 5,300 Covid-19 cases a week in Auckland and the neighboring Northland region alone next year, even with a 90% vaccination rate, as modeled by the Ministry of Health.
Health Minister Andrew Little revealed the plan for how the health system could handle an increase in cases after the current vaccination campaign, as the country registered 71 new cases on Thursday.
It includes increasing intensive care (ICU) beds, preparing to move healthcare personnel to smaller regions if an outbreak occurs, providing nurses with preventive training in the ICU, and preparing to help people recovering at home.
The number of people in ICU and high dependency units (HDU) is currently at approximately two-thirds of capacity and 16% of available ventilators are being used. The capacity of ICU and HDU beds nationwide can be increased to 550 beds from its current capacity of 320-340 beds.
Health Ministry medical director Andrew Connolly said the system is well prepared, but any system would be overwhelmed if the numbers were too high.
Between 0.2% and 0.4% of Delta’s patients will require ICU care, while the rest may need a “short, sharp burst” of hospital care, Connolly said.
As long as vaccination levels are high, the large number of cases could be recovered at home in the future, and about 5% would need hospital care, Little said.
GP Jeff Lowe said health officials are currently in the “readiness stage” as the country moves toward managing the virus within the community. The plan will stratify cases in the community by risk according to their health and housing needs. Some people will require a follow-up from health services.
Doing this effectively depends on the population being vaccinated, Lowe said.
“We have good supplies and we have a good capacity and capacity to deliver those vaccines now and Super Saturday is one of those events for people to get vaccinated.”
The vaccine passport would allow the public to participate again in a “classic New Zealand summer,” he said.
As of Thursday, more than 80% of the eligible population, those 12 and older, have received their first dose of the vaccine, and more than 58% are fully inoculated.
The government is phasing out its elimination strategy for a suppression method as it pushes to vaccinate at least 90% of the eligible population.
“As the prime minister said, we are working on this kind of new regime of how we respond to outbreaks and infections,” Little said.
Precautionary measures, such as the use of masks and registration locations, will continue to be a large part of the strategy.
“But once we reach a satisfactory level of vaccination for all population groups. Then we can begin to relax restrictions, open borders and people can move more freely … we can only do it safely and responsibly as a government when we know that there is a high level of vaccination. “
Little said vaccination rates are going well. “I have to say that today I am more confident than two weeks ago about reaching 90%.”