Wellington [New Zealand]: New Zealand reported its first case of Omicron BA.5 variant at the border amid 12,392 community cases during the weekend, said the Ministry of Health in a statement on Sunday.
A person who has travelled from South Africa to New Zealand has been confirmed as having the BA.5 variant of Omicron. This is the first known detection of the variant in New Zealand, said the ministry.
According to the ministry, this follows the detection of BA.4 on May 1, also in a person who had travelled from South Africa.
It can take weeks or months to assess the severity of each new variant or sub-variant, so the Ministry of Health will continue to monitor the emerging evidence closely, it is said.
Microbiologist Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles from the University of Auckland was worried about “all versions of Omicron around” and “variants of the virus we don’t yet know about but are almost certainly out there evolving away.”
“One big problem with the ‘getting back to normal’ phase that most countries have adopted is putting immunocompromised people at high risk of infection. While this is dangerous for their health, it can also be really bad for everyone else,” wrote Wiles to local media The Spinoff.
New Zealand is currently under the orange settings of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, where there is no limit for gatherings.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker told local media Newshub that most infectious diseases don’t decline in severity over time.
“If we look at Omicron now, its severity is very similar to the original COVID-19 virus that we saw for a whole year, and it’s still about 10 times more dangerous than influenza for unimmunized people,” said Baker.
According to the ministry, Sunday’s seven-day rolling average of community case numbers is 7,510, even a little bit higher than last Sunday’s 7,414 reported cases.
“Unfortunately, we’re now seeing the (infection) rates in New Zealand plateauing out, and we’re seeing this, particularly in Auckland, because that was the first place to get a peak,” said Baker.
Immunologist Anna Brooks from the University of Auckland told local news media Stuff that New Zealand is facing a huge number of long COVID-19 cases in the aftermath of Omicron.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been in self-isolation after her fiancee Clarke Gayford tested positive for COVID-19. Ardern announced the news on Sunday morning via social media.
The country reported the deaths of 15 people with COVID-19 amid 12,392 new community cases in the past two days.
In addition, 166 new cases of COVID-19 were detected at the New Zealand border during the weekend.
New Zealand has reported 986,261 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.