Experts are Watching Subvariants Closely

The Ministry of Health has reported that in the last week there were 16,399 new Covid cases in the community. The ministry also reported a further 41 deaths, including one person aged between 10 and 19.

As of midnight on Sunday, 243 people were in hospital with the virus, including six in intensive care.

Covid-19 is on the rise again in New Zealand and experts are keeping an eye on two new strains, one of which has been dubbed a nightmare.

The subvariant BQ.1.1 has been detected in the wastewater in several regions since it was first identified earlier this month, while the XBB variant has been recorded twice.

This comes as the first cruise ship to return to Napier and Wellington in two and a half years has Covid-19 cases on board. The Ovation of the Seas was carrying about 4500 passengers and crew when it arrived in Napier Port on Monday morning from Tahiti.

Meanwhile, Western Auckland, Rotorua and Porirua have all had BQ.1.1 in the wastewater but no XBB has been detected in samples yet.

XBB, dubbed the "Nightmare variant" in Singapore, where it has been credited with a sharp increase in infection, is a recombinant variant – meaning two different viruses have infected one person and then spliced together to create a third.

The Washington Post reported that XBB appears to be the best at evading immunity, and researchers in China have found that XBB can elude the protective antibodies generated by a breakthrough BA.5 infection, raising concern that booster vaccines engineered to target the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of Omicron may be quickly outpaced.

In an earlier report, epidemiologist Michael Baker said a return to some kind of alert level system could help avoid the worst in future Covid-19 waves.

"We've already been through two big Omicron waves this year. Each of these waves saw large numbers of cases, hospitalisations and deaths,” he said.

"If we see another wave rising, which seems very likely, and whether it's BQ.1.1 or one of the other subvariants that are starting to become dominant, we're going to see more cases and all the things that go with that."