Covid-19: Cases may be dropping but hospitalisations likely to rise over next week – experts


New Zealand may be past the peak of new infections, but the worst may be yet to come for hospitalisations and daily deaths over the next week or so, a leading pandemic expert says.

In greater Wellington, the number of active cases on Monday had fallen to 14,850, according to data released from the region’s three district health boards. It had declined sharply since March 14 when there were 36,935 active cases confirmed across Wellington, Wairarapa and Hutt Valley.

But 81 people were in hospital across the region, up from 64 a week prior.

“There’s a one to two-week lag with hospitalisations,” according to University of Otago, Wellington epidemiologist, Professor Nick Wilson. “They are the most useful thing to watch because we are protecting the health system from being overloaded.”

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Nationally, 33 people with Covid-19 were in intensive care or high dependency units on Monday – the highest number since the pandemic began, Wilson and his colleagues, Dr Jennifer Summers and Profesor Michael Baker, stated in a blog.

Professor Nick Wilson from University of Otago, Wellington, and his public health colleagues believe deaths and hospitalisations from the pandemic may be yet to peak.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Professor Nick Wilson from University of Otago, Wellington, and his public health colleagues believe deaths and hospitalisations from the pandemic may be yet to peak.

Their research suggested the number of hospitalisations with Covid-19 peaked for Auckland last Tuesday, but remained to be seen for the rest of the country.

“The peaks for people in intensive care … and daily deaths may also be yet to come,” Wilson, Baker and Summers stated.

As local hospitals deal with the surge, people in Hutt and Wellington will only get surgery this week if it absolutely can’t wait, chief medical officer John Tait said.

“Planned care across all Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHB campuses is now very limited … and we will only be carrying out very urgent – for example, cardiac – surgery, and acute and cancer-related procedures for the next week.

Decisions were made on case-by-case basis, and planned or emergency care that was deemed unsafe to postpone would go ahead, Tait said.

Nine new deaths among people with Covid-19 were reported on Monday, including a person in their 20s.

Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said hospitalisations would likely rise for up to 10 days.

“It takes time for people to get seriously ill enough to end up in hospital and then even longer until they are discharged.

A Covid-19 isolation zone at Waikato Hospital emergency department in 2020. (File photo)

Christel Yardley/Stuff

A Covid-19 isolation zone at Waikato Hospital emergency department in 2020. (File photo)

“It may well be that cases in the Wellington region have peaked,” he said, but said the 7-day rolling average was a better indicator than active cases.

The rolling average on Monday was 17,124 cases. A week earlier, it was 19,566.

Massey University epidemiologist Professor Nigel French said active case numbers and new infection rates “may well be coming down” but the numbers were subject to biases.

In other words, it’s impossible to know whether everyone who is testing positive on a rapid antigen test (RAT) was reporting it.

French said it was crucial people continued to report negative RAT results as it helped indicate infection rates.



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