Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

‘At least half of the population will be affected’ say experts as Omicron surges around the country

cars lined up at an auckland covid-19 testing station
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Anauli Karima Fai'ai | Reporter/Director

Hundreds have been queueing up to get swabbed following a spike in case numbers, now averaging around 1000 a day.

Whanau Ora clinical lead Eleanore Reeve says testing centres have been swamped.

“At some of our sites cars have been lining up along the road, down the back of the buildings coming up to the swabbing station and, I think when omicron started, the numbers went up to 800,” she says.

Doctor Api Talemaitoga of Cavendish doctors says the surge in numbers was to be expected given the infectiousness of the Omicron variant.

“This is definitely what is predicted – the curve will continue to rise and the numbers will double every three or four days,” he says.

The rapid escalation of omicron has doctors concerned about Pacific communities; reportedly around half of current community cases are Pacific.

“Omicron which is a very infectious virus, is easily going to get to a lot of us so, Pasifika people who live in overcrowded houses, who like congregating; all of that,” Dr Talemaitoga says.

Public Health expert Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Associate Dean Pacific at Auckland University, says the variant will continue to have wider implications for Pacific people.

“People losing their jobs; people in the business community are severely impacted, inevitably those who work in the service role,” he says.

The Auckland Vinnies Foodbank in Onehunga have been dealing directly with families heavily impacted by Covid-19, distributing up to 1200 food parcels a week.

Youth coordinator Henry Elliott says the surge in community case numbers comes with a greater need for food parcels. 

“Food is a big issue for families with everyone off work, there’s no steady income coming in which is why the drive through is quite full at the moment,” he says.

Fellow coordinator Lucia Tavite says the team have been working around the clock to meet the demand.

“Numbers are climbing and, if anything, it’s scary. We can only realise the amount of anxiousness that those who are coming to get food parcels or those who are currently isolated are going through,” she says.

And with the number of cases expected to rise exponentially over the coming weeks, the team are anxious about whether there will be enough food for everyone.

“That is the biggest fear. We have our stock here for the next three or so months but, in terms of that time, with the cases rising – the more people isolating – it could be gone within a month; it could be gone within a week,” Henry says.

“We are trying our very best. With numbers climbing and the families that are coming through, they are getting bigger and bigger and so we are just hoping through the grace of God that we can supply enough for those families,” Lucia says.

Meanwhile at the Whanau Ora-run vaccination centre in Takanini, there’s been a low turnout for the booster shot.

“The numbers that are coming through are not as high as I think they would be,” Eleanore says.

The response is evident nationwide with more than a million people who are eligible for the booster dose, yet to receive it.

“The worrying thing is Pasifika people are still lacking in booster shots [and] also lacking in the shots for 5-11 year olds,” Dr Api says.

“What I explained to my families and to my patients [is that] they can catch it from school – and even if they don’t get a really severe illness, unfortunately they can bring that illness home to an elderly aunt who might have diabetes or a grandmother who’s not very well.”

Earlier this week, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a shift to phase two of the omicron response plan which reduces isolation periods for cases and contacts.

“There’s certainly an expectation that people will need to do more for themselves and their families. They are going to have to isolate at home and do as much as they can at home because the health system probably won’t be able to help them as they’ve done in the past,” Dr Colin says.

Meanwhile, frontline workers are bracing for the worst.

“We expect an increase – in which we are already seeing now – at our swabbing stations, at our CIQ; high numbers of people being in home isolation and now with rapid antigen testing, we will see people coming through and pick up those packs,” Eleanore says.

Dr Colin says people should prepare for the reality that most will be affected by Omicron in some way.

“Overall I am told that pretty much everyone in New Zealand may well get omicron,” he says.

“The experience overseas is that its highly infective and at least half of the population will be affected,” he says.

Dr Api is urging everyone to be vigilant regardless.

“The booster shot is the best protection that will protect you against omicron, it might not be 100% but it means if you do get it, you only get a mild illness,” he says.

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