Boris Johnson meets New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern
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A new wave of the Omicron strain, which is particularly affecting the older population, means New Zealanders are dying from COVID-19 more than ever before in the country. Deaths from the virus reached 151 in the seven days to July 16, compared with 115 in the worst week of the previous wave, in March, according to Health Ministry data.
In the latest 24 hours, 26 people died from COVID, all aged over 60, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Ms Ardern’s Government was once known for having some of the world’s strictest Covid measures.
As countries learned to live with Covid, New Zealand continued to have tough measures in the hopes of completely eradicating the virus.
But the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 sub-variant is driving the current wave in New Zealand, which has a population of 5.1million, as the winter sets in.
The Omicron wave appears to have peaked at just over 10,000 daily cases
There have been 64,780 active cases in the past seven days, although authorities say many infections are unreported.
Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago and expert epidemiologist Michael Baker, said New Zealand’s daily death rate was “very concerning”.
He said: “I think one of the things that’s alarming is the high mortality.
“It’s now peaking at the highest level we’ve ever seen, with a moving average of about 22 deaths.”
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Once regarded as a model for preventing COVID infection, New Zealand’s swift response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation kept it largely free from the virus until the end of last year.
The nation once embraced snap lockdowns over cases in the single digits.
But since the government dropped its zero-COVID policy this year once the population was largely vaccinated the virus has begun to spread quickly.
Emergency departments, GPs and medical centres have come under pressure.
However, Health Ministry data shows hospitalisation levels remain below those seen during the March peak.
The government is resisting pressure from some doctors to reinstate curbs on public gatherings or mandate the wearing of masks at schools.
However, Education Ministry chief Iona Holsted said the Government has advised schools to enforce the wearing of masks as much as practicable when children returned from holidays next week.
She said: “We understand that implementing mask policies can be a challenge but ask that you take action to strengthen your mask wearing policy as soon as possible.”
Late last year, New Zealand made Covid vaccines mandatory for doctors, police, teachers, soldiers as well as others. This law is meant to be temporary but no end date has been given for its removal.
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