New Zealanders urged to wear masks as winter Covid-19 wave hits

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WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – New Zealand’s government is urging people to wear masks and test for Covid-19 more frequently as a winter wave of infections puts the health system under pressure.

Masks and rapid antigen tests will be made available for free to encourage their use, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said on Thursday (July 14) in Wellington. Anti-viral drugs will also be made more widely available to help reduce hospitalisations, she said.

“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,” Verrall said. “Our modelling suggests we’re 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.”

Daily case numbers have risen recently, with more than 11,000 new infections and 765 hospitalisations reported on Thursday. Deaths have also increased. At the same time, some people are no longer wearing masks in public spaces as complacency sets in.

Modelling indicates daily case numbers could surge to 21,000 and hospitalisations could rise to 1,200 unless people increase mask use and adhere to the rules of isolating when they or family members fall ill, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

Verrall said wearing masks can reduce new cases of the virus by as much as 53 per cent. “We are continuing to ask New Zealanders to do three things – get vaccinated, wear a mask in many or most indoor settings and isolate when sick to suppress the spread of the virus over the remaining winter months,” she said.

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