The combination of a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations, the worst flu season in recent memory and corresponding staff absences are putting health workers and the whole health system under extreme pressure.
Our modelling suggests we are at the beginning of a second Omicron wave that could be bigger than the first, with the more transmissible BA.5 variant becoming the dominant strain in the community.
There has been a significant increase in cases over the past 2 weeks, and the biggest jump is in cases amongst New Zealanders aged 65 and over. That in turn has led to an increase in hospital occupancy.
We are continuing to ask New Zealanders to do 3 things:
- get vaccinated
- wear a mask in many or most indoor settings
- isolate when sick to suppress the spread of the virus over the remaining winter months.
If we all play our part we can take some pressure off the health system.
To support this, we are implementing a range of measures to help Kiwis stay well. These extra measures will help get us and the health system through the winter months. Please do your bit.
We are increasing access to antiviral medication to those most likely to end up in hospital, making free masks and RATs more widely available and doing another push to lift uptake of flu and COVID-19 vaccines including the second booster.
Antiviral medications can reduce the seriousness of COVID-19 meaning fewer people need to be hospitalised, so we are making these more widely available as pharmacist-only medications.
Pharmac is also broadening the eligibility criteria to enable more people from higher risk groups to access antiviral medications.
These eligible groups will be able to access antivirals without the need for a doctor’s prescription. This means access will expand from 2% to 10% of cases.
From Monday 18 July, anyone over 75 years of age who has tested positive for COVID-19 or anyone who has been admitted previously to an Intensive Care Unit directly as a result of COVID-19 will be eligible to access antivirals through their doctor.
This will help alleviate pressure on primary care by removing the need for GPs to review every COVID-19 patient that may be eligible for antivirals.
To speed up access to antivirals, doctors can now provide back-pocket prescriptions, which means at-risk patients for acute respiratory illnesses can be preapproved and have their prescription ready should they become unwell and need the medicine immediately.
RATs and masks
To increase uptake in use in RATs and face masks, packs of medical masks will be provided free along with free RAT kits for individuals and households from testing centres and in more locations by the end of the week. You do not need to have COVID-19 symptoms. P2/N95 masks will be available for clinically vulnerable and high-risk individuals.
Free RATs will be available from all current community providers, including marae, testing stations and local pharmacies.
We are encouraging everyone who needs extra RATs or masks to head to a testing site or other location and collect a free pack for you and your whānau. There is no criteria — you do not need to be unwell or have symptoms.
Wearing masks can reduce new cases of the virus by as much as 53%. We are asking New Zealanders to keep up good mask wearing, especially over the remaining winter months where the virus is more likely to pass in indoor settings.
The tried and tested measures: wearing a high-quality mask, strong vaccine and booster uptake, antivirals and testing are highly effective and will put us in the best position to get through what is one of the toughest winters we have faced.
We are also providing 10 million child-size masks available for Year 4 to 7 students in New Zealand and up to 30,000 masks a week for all other students and school staff, alongside extra funding to support better ventilation over winter.
These are the most effective measures we have. They are simple but if we all do them we can lessen illness and the burden on our health system and dedicated health workers, and get through this darkest part of winter.