Covid 19 Delta outbreak: 145 new cases as Omicron variant causes concerns overseas

There are 145 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today – 127 are in Auckland, 13 are in the Waikato, 4 are in the Bay of Plenty and one is in Canterbury.

A person has also died of the virus.

Seventy-seven people are in hospital, with 8 of them in intensive care.

All but four of those in hospital are in Auckland. Three are in the Waikato and one is in Rotorua. The average age of those in hospital is 48.

Today’s update comes as the discovery of a new variant of concern in southern Africa prompts a number of countries to halt air travel from the region.

Epidemiologist professor Michael Baker told the Herald that New Zealand should also consider putting countries from southern Africa on its very high-risk travel list.

“I’m sure the actual number of travellers to New Zealand from those countries is probably tiny,” he said.

“I think it would probably be relatively easy to put those countries in the same grouping as Papua New Guinea (already on the list) as the highest risk and that does give you extra precautions.”

Baker said that the real threat of the new variant was how resistant it was to vaccines.

“If this turns out to be a real threat to the effectiveness of vaccines, which is the main worry, then this might mean we have to review our plans for January and February next year on relying on home isolation entirely,” he said.

“But look, that’s really leaping ahead, it’s important not to catastrophise and we need to wait for more information.”

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said yesterday a travel ban on countries where the variant was present would depend on public health advice. “If we need to take action, we will,” he said.

Of the eligible population in New Zealand, 84.5 per cent have been fully vaccinated and 91.9 per cent have had their first dose.

Robertson said that 13 DHBs had now hit 90 per cent first dose coverage of the eligible population. Only 19,408 more first doses were needed for all DHBs to hit the mark.

“These are all fantastic achievements. More DHBs are closing in on the 90 per cent first dose mark,” he said.

Robertson said bookings were now open for booster shots, which will begin from November 29. Healthcare and border workers were prioritised, given they were the first in line. Bookings were also now open for AstraZeneca.

On Monday the Government will say more about the traffic light system. The new framework will come into force from next Friday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said no part of the country will start in the green setting, while Auckland and regions with low vaccination coverage will start in red.

New Covid variant Omicron

The World Health Organisation has named the B.1.1.529 Covid variant “Omicron” and an advisory group has said it should be designated as “of concern”.

In a statement, the WHO said preliminary evidence suggests the latest variant carries a “higher risk of re-infection than other variants of concern”.

The statement said the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9, 2021.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs [variants of concern]. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”

Medical experts have warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after Covid-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.

The US said it will ban travel from South Africa and seven other African nations by non-US citizens beginning Monday. European Union nations agreed earlier in the day to impose a ban on travel from southern Africa to counter the variant’s spread. The UK, Canada and other countries have imposed similar restrictions.

Some nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa, and stocks tumbled in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 1000 points. The S&P 500 index was down 2.3 per cent, on pace for its worst day since February. The price of oil plunged nearly 12 per cent.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union, which recommended a ban on flights from southern African nations.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights “should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travellers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”

Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant. It involved a person who came from abroad.

“It’s a suspicious variant. We don’t know if it’s a very dangerous variant,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said.

Showing how complicated the spread of a variant can be, the traveller returned to Belgium from Egypt on November 11 and became sick on Monday with mild symptoms, according to professor Marc Van Ranst, who works for the scientific group overseeing the Belgian government’s Covid -19 response.

Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, announced on Friday it also detected the country’s first case of the new variant in a traveller who returned from Malawi. The traveller and two other suspected cases were placed in isolation. Israel said all three were vaccinated, but officials were looking into the travellers’ exact vaccination status.

– additional reporting: AP

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