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Cases rise weeks out from holiday

An epidemiologist is warning holiday travel could cause a rise in covid-19 cases, with Wairarapa experiencing a 53 per cent increase in numbers over the past week.

Wairarapa-based epidemiologist Roger Morris said the biggest risk to the region this summer was holiday goers bringing the virus back from the big centres.

“There will be people who travel around over Christmas and New Year – especially to the big cities – and some of those will bring cases back.”

Ministry of Health [MOH] said Wairarapa recorded 320 cases last week, 112 more than the previous week.

There were 190 active cases in Masterton, 71 in South Wairarapa, and 59 in Carterton as of Monday.

One person was in Wairarapa Hospital virus on Sunday night. However, no further deaths were recorded in the region, with the total remaining at 46.

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker said the third wave was yet to peak.

“We will see numbers climb till the end of the year. Numbers are expected to peak closer to Christmas.

“The third wave has had a more gentle rise compared to previous waves when New Zealand’s population had no prior immunity.”

He said the rise was driven by reduced restrictions and waning immunity from the vaccine.

“The government has reduced controls, but we have also reduced controls. We’re not wearing masks, we’re mixing more.

“It’s great to get out and about, back to our lives, but the more mixing we do, the more cases will rise.”

Baker said to be careful with large gatherings before visiting older relatives over Christmas.

“The risk of hospitalisations and mortality risk hugely rises in older people. When we reach 75 or over, the mortality risk rises quite rapidly.

“If you’re planning a trip to extended family and older relatives, that’s another reason to pay attention at social gatherings, do rat tests before going to your work Christmas party, make sure the area is well-ventilated.”

Morris said the dominant strain of covid-19 in the world is BQ1.1, which emerged from BA5.

He said more people were reinfected due to the evolution of the virus’s spike protein.

“The vaccine relied on recognising and attaching to the spike protein.

“However, the virus does what is called immune escape, where the variant has severe changes to the spike protein, meaning the vaccine is not as effective as it was to the subvariants before.”

He said the vaccine remained an important protection measure for severe cases.

“As time passes after getting the vaccine, the effectiveness against catching the virus falls away gradually, but the effectiveness against severe symptoms stays high.”

He said the virus will continue to infect for a long time, but the severity would wane.

“The cases will decline over the next year. We can expect covid-19 to be with us for centuries, but it will evolve into a minor disease.

“Many of the diseases that we call a ‘common cold’ are coronaviruses. Five hundred years ago, the common cold caused severe diseases, but over time it will get less severe. The same thing will happen with covid.”

MOH said Wairarapa had the third lowest number of cases in the country, after West Coast and Tairawhiti [East Coast] last week.

However, the big centres had a high concentration of cases, including Waitemata [4910], Canterbury [4162], Waikato [2774] and Capital and Coast [2657].

Nationally, there were 34,528 new cases last week, a quarter of those were reinfections [9099].

The seven-day rolling average of new cases was 4926, the highest since August, and there were 23 deaths attributed to the virus and 418 people in hospital as of midnight Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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