“The government is aiming for elimination of the COVID-19 virus or as close as possible to elimination, which will be backed up by intense surveillance to detect re-emergence of the virus, and prompt a public health response if new cases are found,” said a spokesperson from the ministry.
However, as the country enters the winter season from June, looking out for COVID-19 cases while seeing an increasing number of the usual respiratory viruses in winter will be a challenge.
“This is one of the reasons for the strong measures that have been taken,” said the spokesperson. “There is an ongoing possibility of putting alert levels back up again over the coming months if COVID-19 re-emerges and cannot be rapidly contained.”
Most illnesses caused by respiratory viruses are more common in the winter months. Influenza shows a very seasonal pattern, with increased illness, hospitalizations and deaths reaching a peak in the winter months in New Zealand.
“How the virus causing COVID-19 responds to colder temperatures is yet to be known, but it is assumed that any respiratory virus including COVID-19 will spread more easily in winter months because people are spending more time indoors and being closer to each other,” said the spokesperson.
“While this doesn’t mean the disease is more severe, but there could be more risks of spreading,” added the spokesperson.
According the ministry, to date, more than 1.744 million flu vaccines have been distributed nationwide to general practices, pharmacies, occupational health providers, district health boards and other vaccinators this year. Over 800,000 eligible people have been vaccinated so far this year, compared with just over 700,000 in 2019.