Figures released by the Ministry of Health show a stark increase in the number of health workers who have contracted Covid-19, Marc Daalder reports

The number of health workers in New Zealand with Covid-19 has jumped by nearly 60 percent in just four days.

On Wednesday, 64 healthcare workers had contracted the virus but that figure had leapt to 101 by Sunday.

Of the 110 new confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases in the intervening period, 37 of them – more than a third – were health staff.

The number of nurses with the virus jumped from 17 to 31 between Wednesday and Sunday, while the number of support and care workers rose from 20 to 48 over the same period. No doctors contracted the virus and one new medical student did.

Health workers make up almost 7.5 percent of the total cases in New Zealand, up from 5.29 percent on Wednesday. These figures do not include aged care workers.

The University of Otago’s Michael Baker, an expert in infectious diseases, told Newsroom these figures were cause for concern.

“That’s very concerning. That does show how, as we know from overseas, healthcare workers are very vulnerable because they’re exposed to the virus and also to infectious people just by the nature of their work. Also, they can get a larger inoculum, which also places them at higher risk,” he said.

“I think that’s a very important group. We know it’s critical to protect them.”

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the situation was worrying.

“I’m concerned about any case in a healthcare worker, particularly where it happens in the workplace,” he said.

“We’ve got some information about the cases that are healthcare workers and what I’ve asked the team for particular analysis of is, of the cases that have happened in the workplace, how was it that they were infected? So was that through being part of caring for someone with Covid-19 or was it because they are part of a cluster where they may be a close contact of another staff member?”

“I think that’s the important thing. And then, by understanding that, we can get a better understanding of what else we may need to do to help ensure that our staff are protected in whatever setting.”

As Newsroom has previously reported, transmission of Covid-19 within hospitals poses a grave threat to any healthcare system.

A group of doctors from Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Italy – the epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak – wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine identifying hospitals as a particular risk.

“We are learning that hospitals might be the main Covid-19 carriers, as they are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients,” they wrote.

“Patients are transported by our regional system, which also contributes to spreading the disease as its ambulances and personnel rapidly become vectors. Health workers are asymptomatic carriers or sick without surveillance; some might die, including young people, which increases the stress of those on the front line.

“The situation here is dismal as we operate well below our normal standard of care.

“Wait times for an intensive care bed are hours long. Older patients are not being resuscitated and die alone without appropriate palliative care, while the family is notified over the phone, often by a well-intentioned, exhausted, and emotionally depleted physician with no prior contact.

“But the situation in the surrounding area is even worse. Most hospitals are overcrowded, nearing collapse while medications, mechanical ventilators, oxygen, and personal protective equipment are not available.”

Official statistics indicate 2245 people had died in Bergamo as of April 4 but the true toll is estimated to be at least twice that.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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