Just 1.47 per cent of travellers have tested positive for the Omicron variant of Covid-19 since December 1, according to the Ministry of Health.
Out of about 18,000 travellers processed through managed isolation and quarantine, there have been 266 cases of Omicron confirmed.
That means one out of every 66 travellers, or thereabouts, has the Omicron variant.
Professor Michael Plank, from the University of Canterbury’s school of mathematics and statistics and a principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini, said he was “surprised” the number wasn’t higher.
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“Cases at the border have really ramped up in recent weeks, so I expect if you looked at how many cases there had been after Christmas the percentage would be different,” he said.
One reason the number of confirmed Omicron cases might not be higher was because many could still be in the process of whole genome sequencing, Plank said.
“I believe the vast majority of cases coming into New Zealand will be the Omicron variant, and the number of recent cases at the border has been worrying.”
On Wednesday, the ministry said the number of Omicron cases at the border since December 1 outnumbered the number of Delta cases by more than 10 to one.
In the second half of 2021, one case of transmission out of MIQ sparked the Delta outbreak in Auckland. At that time, there were about two to three Covid-19 cases being caught at the border each day on average, Plank said.
“We’re now seeing numbers in the 20s and 30s per day, so it just means that the risk of the virus leaking out of MIQ into the community has gone up by a factor of 10, compared to last year.”
Plank said New Zealand needed to be on high alert, and it was likely the numbers would continue to increase.
On Friday the Ministry of Health announced there were 43 cases at the border, up from 13 on Thursday.
The cases at the border had arrived from Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Fiji and the United States.
“New Zealand continues to see many border cases arriving from overseas, reflecting the growing number of Omicron cases globally,” it said.
“As part of our collective preparations for Omicron please check your details are up-to-date with your regular healthcare provider and in the Covid-19 Tracer app.
“New Zealand has taken steps to manage the risk of a community Omicron outbreak linked to border cases, including increasing the period overseas arrivals must spend in MIQ, and shifting the focus of whole genome sequencing to areas of most risk, such as for any cases in border workers.”
Plank said Omicron was spreading fast across the world and advised anyone who was eligible to get their booster dose of the vaccine as soon as possible.
He said it was likely the variant could be in the community within the next few weeks.
“We won’t keep it out forever, but we need to buy more time. Get your booster as soon as your four months is up.”