New Zealand tops 1000 COVID deaths
Over two years after the first recorded case, New Zealand has topped 1000 COVID-19 related deaths.
On Wednesday, health officials announced 32 new deaths, nudging the pandemic toll from to 1017.
The milestone, while macabre, is a reminder of New Zealand's success in handing COVID-19 compared to other developed nations.
Australia's toll - according to the federal health department as of Tuesday - is 7873, while the United States has topped one million deaths, around 15 times New Zealand's per capita rate.
According to a fresh Stats NZ report, New Zealand has also achieved a lower than expected overall death rate during the pandemic.
"We recognise the pain of losing a family member or friend and do not wish to diminish that," COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said.
"This (reduced death toll) reflected the benefits of our COVID-19 response in reducing exposure to the virus and protecting our more vulnerable New Zealanders."
The data shows New Zealand's overall death rate dropped in 2020 and 2021, with fatalities from influenza and accidents down.
In 2022, COVID-related suffering has surged.
There had been roughly 50 COVID-related deaths as the year dawned but the arrival of the Omicron variant in late January triggered a surge of cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
That groundswell led Jacinda Ardern's government to change its policy settings, abandoning lockdowns and, for the vast majority, quarantine requirements at the border.
More changes are in the works, with Mr Hipkins saying pre-departure testing could be gone before their planned removal in August.
"It is likely a decision on that will be taken sooner rather than later," he told parliament.
Many mask-wearing rules remain, but vaccine mandates are being dropped given high vaccination rates across the community.
"What you'll see is those mandates are constantly shrinking," Mr Hipkins said.
As of Wednesday, 95.2 per cent of Kiwis aged 12 and over have been double-dosed, and 70.7 per cent have taken a booster.
Take-up drops away among Maori, with 88.3 per cent double-dosed and 53.9 per cent boosted.
A majority of Kiwi kids between 5 and 11 have received at least one dose.
New Zealand is yet to authorise a second booster shot, despite lapsing immunity for many who were boosted early in the rollout - including health and border workers.
"Our technical experts are indicating to us that it would be desirable to have a fourth dose no earlier than six months after the most recent dose," Mr Hipkins said.
"That's coming up in that June period ... we're preparing to make provision for that."
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