New Zealand’s COVID death rate at record highs

People run past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand’s novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure which mandates the wearing of masks on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand Zeeland, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall/ Files

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WELLINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) – New Zealanders are dying of COVID-19 at a record rate as the country battles a new wave of the Omicron strain that is particularly affecting the elderly population.

Deaths from the virus reached 151 in the seven days to July 16, up from 115 in the worst week of the previous wave in March, according to Health Ministry data. In the past 24 hours, 26 people have died from COVID, all over the age of 60, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The Omicron BA.5 sub-variant is driving the current wave in New Zealand, which has a population of 5.1 million. There have been 64,780 active cases in the past seven days, although authorities say many infections go unreported.

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Once seen as a model for preventing COVID infection, New Zealand’s rapid response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation largely kept it free from the virus until late last year.

The government abandoned its zero COVID policy this year once the population was widely vaccinated. Since then, the virus has been allowed to spread.

Emergency departments, general practices and medical centers are under pressure. However, data from the Department of Health shows that levels of hospitalization remain below those seen during the peak in March.

The government is resisting pressure from some doctors to reinstate restrictions on public gatherings or mandate the wearing of masks in schools.

However, Department for Education chief Iona Holsted said on Thursday the department had advised schools to enforce mask-wearing as much as possible when children return from vacation next week.

“We understand that implementing mask policies can be a challenge, but urge you to take steps to strengthen your mask-wearing policy as soon as possible,” she said.

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Reporting by Lucy Craymer; Editing by Bradley Perrett

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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