That’s the message from WellSouth Medical Director and GP Dr Carol Atmore, who warns that BA.5 is far more contagious than the previous Omicron variant of the virus.
And while BA.5 doesn’t appear to be making people sicker in general, the sharp rise in the number of community cases will inevitably lead to more people being hospitalized with Covid-19.
It is also concerning that the actual number of cases may be much higher than reported, as sewage testing has indicated that up to half of all positive Covid-19 cases go unreported.
“We are preparing for a continued increase in cases for up to 10 weeks,” Dr Atmore said.
A lot of people were “on it” when it came to Covid-19 and wanted to think the pandemic was over, but it wasn’t, she said.
It was important that everyone “get the basics right” to protect themselves and others.
“That means wearing a mask, washing your hands, getting shots and boosters, and staying home if you’re sick,” she said.
Given the impact of the BA.5 variant in the elderly, the increased availability of antiviral drugs would hopefully prove very helpful.
Anyone over the age of 75 who tests positive for Covid-19 could be eligible, as well as people aged 65 to 74 who had not received the initial two doses of vaccine, and Maori and Pasifika aged 50 to 64 year old who had not received two doses.
“It’s good to know that we have the option of antiviral drugs available to people,” Dr. Atmore said.
Last week, Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall announced that free masks and rapid antigen tests would be provided to all who needed them in a bid to increase testing and trying to get people to wear masks as part of Orange.
Dr Atmore said the best way people could protect themselves was to have the Covid-19 vaccine and it was not too late for people to get vaccinated.
“You are 40 or 50 times less likely to die from Covid-19 if you have been vaccinated,” she said.
Using the second booster shot has been reasonable so far, but it would be better if more people got it as soon as possible.
“We all need to protect ourselves in the best way we currently have,” Dr Atmore said.
The combination of the Covid surge and the flu season meant that the healthcare system faced a very busy time with winter illnesses.
“We can all play our part in reducing this pressure by doing the right things – wearing a mask, washing our hands and staying home when sick,” Dr Atmore said.
Key messages on Covid-19
• You can be infected with Covid-19 more than once. Many people in the Southern Health District and wider New Zealand are finding out. Please be vigilant when going out in the community and wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene and physical distancing where appropriate.
• It’s not too late to get your Covid-19 booster. Aside from wearing a mask, a Covid-19 booster dose is your best form of defense against severe Covid-19 infection. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to build full protection against Covid-19, so now is the time to act.
• It is now more important than ever to wear a mask in public. Wearing a mask is the easiest way to protect yourself, your whanau and vulnerable members of your community from Covid-19.