Prime minister says number of people who get booster vaccines will dictate how high the peak will be

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern says she expects the Covid Omicron wave to peak at the end of March.
Photograph: Getty Images

As New Zealand hits new records for daily case numbers, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said she expects Omicron infections to start peaking in late March.

The country reported 202 cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, following several days of numbers sitting around the 200 mark – including a record 243 cases on Saturday. The past seven days are among the highest weeks of case numbers since the pandemic began.

On Tuesday morning Ardern told RNZ, the national radio broadcaster, that she expected New Zealand’s cases to peak at between 10,000 and 30,000 cases a day.

“It’s widely variable and ultimately the defining feature of where we will peak will be booster uptake. The more people who take a booster, the lower the likelihood of our peak,” she said.

“While there’s uncertainty in case numbers, if you looked at low case profiles in a place like say South Australia and you applied that to New Zealand, you would have something like 10,000 cases a day at its peak.”

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said over the weekend that rising case numbers were expected given the emergence of the Omicron variant. “We do expect case numbers to continue to grow in the coming days and weeks and I urge people not to panic but to plan for that,” he said.

Nearly 30% of New Zealand’s total population, including children, have received a booster shot; 83% have had at least one dose, and 77% two doses. Among the population aged 12 and over, 94% of New Zealanders are vaccinated with two doses – but rates are lagging among Māori, 86% of whom are double-vaccinated.

While the vast majority of the country is vaccinated, some New Zealanders continue to object to vaccination, particularly the mandates that affect about 40% of the workforce.

On Tuesday, anti-vaccine protesters made for parliament in what they called a “Freedom Convoy” modelled on the truckers’ protest that has caused a state of emergency to be declared in Ottawa. New Zealand’s convoy has so far been a smaller affair: an estimated 1,500 protesters were gathered at parliament on Friday afternoon. Police said that the protest was “expected to cause congestion on routes into Wellington City”.

Ardern said she would not be meeting the protesters.