New Zealand records highest daily COVID cases as US issues travel warning

Shoppers walk wearing face masks in a retail district of Auckland

New Zealand has recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic as the Omicron variant boosts community transmission, leading US officials to warn Americans against travel to the country.

Authorities reported 23,894 new COVID cases in New Zealand on Tuesday, including 9,881 in Auckland, the country’s largest city.

This was an increase from the daily cases reported from Saturday to Monday, which were below 20,000.

Authorities reported that 757 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus, with 16 patients in intensive care or high-dependency care.

“Even at the start of the Omicron outbreak, the figures show that, based on available data, unvaccinated people are significantly overrepresented in current hospitalization data,” a statement from the Department of Health said.

Only 3% of New Zealanders aged over 12 had not received any doses of the COVID vaccine, but those who were not vaccinated made up 19.4% of people hospitalized with coronavirus in hospitals in Auckland and the Northland, he said.

Dr Caroline McElnay, New Zealand’s director of public health, told a press conference that “occupancy levels remain manageable” despite pressure on hospital staff.

Dr McElnay, who appeared via video link while suffering from COVID-like symptoms, said the true number of cases was likely higher than reported.

“We haven’t reached our peak yet,” New Zealand Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins was quoted as saying by the New Zealand Herald.

“We’ve been working with Auckland hospitals, they said the pressure has eased. But we’re looking at how to help.”

US raises travel risk for New Zealand to ‘very high’

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meanwhile, has urged Americans to avoid traveling to New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand for COVID-19 cases.

New Zealand has eased its COVID-related travel restrictions.(AP: Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald)

The CDC has raised its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for all three destinations.

In total, the CDC is urging Americans to avoid travel to about 135 countries and territories.

Travel advice from Australia to New Zealand is to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to COVID-19.

“Wear a face covering wherever you go,” advises the Smartraveller website.

A former poster child for fighting the coronavirus, New Zealand’s rapid response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation kept the country largely free of COVID-19 until late last year, winning the strong support of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.