COVID deaths in New Zealand reach record high after Omicron wave

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New Zealanders are dying from COVID-19 at a record rate as the country battles new wave of Omicron strain this particularly affects the elderly population.

The number of deaths from the virus reached 151 in the seven days leading up to July 16, up from 115 in the worst week of the previous wave in March, according to the Ministry of Health. In the past 24 hours, 26 people have died from COVID, all over the age of 60, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Omicron BA.5 sub-variant is the driving force behind the current wave in New Zealand, which is home to 5.1 million people. There have been 64,780 active cases in the past seven days, though authorities say many infections go unreported.

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New Zealand was once seen as a model for preventing COVID infection, but thanks to New Zealand’s quick response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation, it was largely free of the virus until the end of last year.

This year, the government abandoned its zero-COVID policy, with the population largely vaccinated. Since then, the virus has been allowed to spread.

People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand's new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure, which requires masks to be worn on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 1.  31st, 2020.

People jog past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand’s new coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measure, which requires masks to be worn on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 2. 31st, 2020.
(Reuters/Fiona Goodall/Files)

Emergency departments, general practitioners and medical centers are under pressure. However, data from the Ministry of Health show that hospitalization rates remain below those seen during the March peak.

New Zealand government is resisting pressure from some doctors to reinstate restrictions on public gatherings or require masks to be worn in schools.

However, education ministry chief Jonah Halstead said on Thursday that the ministry had recommended that schools make sure that masks are worn as much as is practical when children return from vacation next week.

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“We understand that implementing a mask-wearing policy can be challenging, but we ask that you take action as soon as possible to tighten the mask-wearing policy,” she said.