April was our deadliest month for Covid


April was New Zealand’s deadliest month for Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to recently-released statistics.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 death toll has increased more than tenfold over the past two months.

The government’s decision to keep schools and non-essential businesses open and to remove most public health restrictions is being blamed for the spike.

Our COVID death toll stood at 68 at the beginning of March when the Omicron wave began here.

By May 3 the number of COVID deaths had increased to 777.

More than half of these occurred in April.

According to the Ministry of Health, more than 950,000 people have had COVID, which is almost one in five. Nearly all of these cases were recorded in the last two months.

Whether that is the real total is open to question as the official figures are based on self-administered and self-reported rapid antigen tests (RATs).

Nor does it take into account the number suffering from Long COVID, a set of conditions that can include severe damage to the heart, lungs and brain.

The healthcare system, which was already facing a crisis of understaffing and unmet needs before the pandemic, has been overwhelmed by the Omicron wave.

Thousands of nurses and doctors have been infected. Vital operations and treatments have been postponed.

Royal NZ College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty says there have been reports of emergency departments “all over the country” being filled to capacity.

He says this is due to “a combination of the pressures that we’ve been under with COVID, the pressures that we’ve been under in general practice,” as well as an increase in other viral illnesses.

The outlook’s not rosy either.

Christchurch District Health Board chief executive Peter Bramley said last week that COVID case numbers “are not dropping away as quickly as we originally predicted, and we envisage this situation will continue for some time.”

Wellington emergency surgeon Dr Kelvin Ward has started a petition calling for the government to urgently adopt a “vaccines plus” approach to COVID.

This would introduce public health measures in addition to a stepped-up vaccination campaign.

His open letter petition was co-written by nine other scientists and public health experts including epidemiologists. It has been signed by more than 150 doctors and scientists.

It calls for the reinstatement of mandatory masking in schools, carbon dioxide monitors, air filtration systems and “clear ventilation standards for indoor public spaces.”

Better public education about the nature of the airborne transmission of the virus and how to prevent it is necessary, the letter says.

Furthermore, it also asks for government funding to ensure a good supply of N95 and similar high-quality masks, rather than the inadequate surgical masks widely in use.

A stronger effort to boost vaccination rates, particularly for children, is also called for.

“Relying on ‘personal responsibility’ without effective public health measures will result in repeated waves of infection, an overloaded and dysfunctional healthcare system and ongoing disruption to daily life,” the letter warns.




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