Australia is now firmly in the grip of the omicron outbreak with accelerating cases in all states and territories except WA as shown in the chart below. The evidence of omicron‘s impact on people’s lives is being seen in the long lines for testing, people becoming frustrated at waiting or being turned away because of early closures of centres over the holidays. People that have been able to get tested have had to wait days for their results to be processed. Others have thought to find rapid antigen testing (RAT) kits only to find that they are difficult or impossible to procure. Many, especially families, are finding that the cost of RAT kits are prohibitive (at $150 plus each). In summary, omicron has become highly disruptive given Government demands for testing compliance but fortunately, the illness itself isn’t as severe as the delta variant from reports so far.
It’s hard to estimate the true number of omicron cases versus delta because the distinction requires genomic sequencing which takes a week or two for results to become known. However, it’s thought that around 80% of cases are omicron in Australia at the moment, with omicron becoming the dominant variant within another week or so..
Meanwhile, over in New Zealand …
As of the 2nd January, there is no known community spread of omicron in New Zealand. There have been 2 confirmed cases of omicron in the community but those cases were successfully traced and placed in isolation before further community spread. However, New Zealand is struggling to keep omicron out of its borders: 90 recent arrivals at the border have been infectious with, most likely, the omicron variant. With a large number of positive cases at the border, the risk of border penetration is ever-present. The chart below shows a declining number of active Covid-19 cases from the recent delta outbreak.
New Zealand has retained its reputation as the most desirable place in the world to live out the pandemic. One big problem — getting to New Zealand at the moment isn’t easy unless you’re a returning resident, come from a Pacific Island that is Covid-19 free, fall into the category of critical worker in health care (or other essential industry) or have critical compassionate reasons. Even then, you need to apply for and gain permission first. From the 1st February, assuming the omicron variant doesn’t push that date back further, entry to New Zealand will become easier but you need to be fully vaccinated, obtain a negative test result prior to travel and spend 10-days (recently increased from 7-days) in quarantine upon arrival. The travel bubble between Australia to New Zealand has been suspended but quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers from New Zealand to Australia remains in effect.
For the data shown in the chart above, New Zealand has a declining number of active cases from the recent delta outbreak. A timeline of New Zealand’s delta outbreak has been published. In the wake of Covid-19 delta, New Zealand has adopted a traffic light protection framework of “red”, “orange” and “green” to indicate the severity of Covid-19. At the moment Northland regional DHB (District Hospital Board) is at “red” and the rest of the country is at “orange”.
Another difference between the New Zealand case chart above and the Australian charts, presented, is that in New Zealand case data are announced when confirmed (which can take a few days). Accordingly, New Zealand case data are labelled as “confirmed” or “probable”. Australian State and Territory data is presented as announced and represent a point in time. Any subsequent revisions in cases by Australian Health authorities are not shown. Ordinarily, this only affects a very small number of cases.
New Zealand currently has declining cases of Covid-19 delta variant, mostly confined to the Northland region and has kept the omicron variant at bay — for now. This is a far better record than has been achieved in many other countries. By way of comparison, Australia’s recent performance in managing Covid-19 testing, in terms of providing access to both PCR laboratory tests and RAT kits, has been shambolic.