Caution in traffic light decision is advised despite pressure easing

An expert says signs of easing pressure on the healthcare system are promising ahead of the government’s next traffic light update – which could see New Zealand in orange territory for Easter.

But others say turning the country orange next week would be “too soon” and policymakers should be careful.

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was not ready to go orange as health systems remained under significant pressure.

The next traffic light review will take place on April 14.

There were 9,906 community cases yesterday, 626 hospitalizations and 10 other Covid-related deaths – including a teenager.

The number of people in intensive care rose from 29 on Thursday to 17 yesterday.

On the likelihood of New Zealand turning orange next week, Professor Michael Plank said the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations were heading in the right direction.

“This is a gradual but steady decrease in cases and hospitalizations.

“I’ve noticed that the number of intensive care has also come down a lot… which is also good news. I think overall there are signs that this pressure is easing and I think that’s promising. [for a ] potential change to orange.”

University of Auckland associate professor Collin Tukuitonga said while the seven-day average was falling, the number of cases was still hovering around 10,000 and officials should not be rushing to pass Nova Scotia. Zeeland with orange.

He said the second waves of the epidemic seen in the UK, for example, and the new XE variant must be taken into account when considering a change in parameters.

“I would generally be cautious. I just think we’re not really above the threat of the pandemic that we can reduce to orange…all in all, it’s probably premature. I’d like to see what it looks like numbers next week.”

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said there was still a lot of transmission across the country, including in Auckland, where 1,804 cases were reported yesterday.

“We are generating new cases, new hospitalizations and probably new deaths every day, so when do we say we can relax controls?

“I would say that would be too early for much of New Zealand, certainly the South Island and many North Island DHBs.”

Baker said his “great concern” about the country’s turning orange was what it would mean for schools.

Under the red, face masks are mandatory for school staff and students from grade 4 when indoors. In orange, masks are encouraged but not required inside the school.

“Only just over half of the children have been vaccinated, about 20% have been fully vaccinated now. So the only obstacle you really have is wearing the mask and once you go orange it becomes optional.

“Children need to go to school and it’s really vital that they do, so we need to make schools safe.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health will now publish weekly reports summarizing Covid-19 data for Maori and Pacific people. The data shows that cases among both groups have declined week over week, but reported deaths have increased.

Twenty-four cases identified as Maori died in the week to April 3, 15 more than the previous week. Twenty Covid-related deaths during this period were Pacific Islanders, eight more than the previous week.

There were 5,282 cases reported in the Pacific in the week to April 3, down from 7,432 the previous week, while there were 18,283 Maori cases, down from 23,050.

Across all ethnicities, the Department of Health yesterday reported 10 more Covid-related deaths, including people who died in the last 15 days.

Of these people, two were from the Auckland area, one from Waikato, two from the DHB Lakes area, three from the Wellington area and two from Canterbury.

One was between the ages of 10 and 19, two in their 40s, three in their 70s, three in their 80s and one over 90.

These deaths brought the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 to 466. The seven-day rolling average of reported deaths is 16.

“This is a very sad time for whānau and his friends and our thoughts and condolences are with them,” the ministry said in a statement.

Yesterday’s seven-day case average is 11,281, while last Friday it was 14,171.

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