Auckland’s Omicron cases are being closely watched as experts predict its rising Covid-19 numbers could reflect the “new normal” for the virus in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health will release details of the latest Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths at 1pm today.

There were another 18 deaths of people with Covid-19 reported yesterday, and 398 people were in hospital with the virus, including eight in intensive care.

Another 7068 community cases were reported yesterday by the ministry.

That brought the seven-day rolling average of cases to 7595, only slightly higher than a week ago.

But in Auckland, cases have jumped 50 per cent in a few weeks, which scientists say could signal the start of a national climb to a new Covid-19 normal.

Daily cases peaked in Auckland in early March at 13,252 before the combined seven-day rolling average across Auckland’s three district health boards fell below 1600 a month ago.

But at the start of this week the daily average was close to 2500, and it could top 3000 in coming weeks as the virus continued working its way through communities, Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank told the Herald this week.

“Auckland and Waitematā seem to have a stronger rebound in cases than Counties-Manukau, which we know had a very high infection rate earlier in the year, so there’s likely a bit more immunity built up in that part of the population.”

The city has previously been identified as the place to watch, as its outbreak was weeks ahead of the rest of the country after Omicron was detected in the community in January.

“Auckland’s the place to look [first] really – the equilibrium’s starting to shift towards case numbers rising”, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said late last month, as infection rates began trending up.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield warned on Friday only half of the country’s Covid infections are likely being reported.

The country had probably reached the low point for cases and hospitalisations from this outbreak, and could be on the way back up, he said.

Bloomfield said there was a risk some people could be reinfected with Covid within 90 days of catching the virus. Officials were closely monitoring whether new sub-variants were likely to cause reinfection.

He urged New Zealanders to get a booster vaccine as soon as possible, notingbooster rates had levelled off at rates similar to other countries.

In all, 70.8 per cent of eligible people have received their booster shot, compared to 95.2 per cent for their second dose of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 yesterday.

Her partner Clarke Gayford tested positive last Sunday and her daughter Neve, 3, tested positive on Wednesday.

Ardern will be unable to attend two major Government events in person this week, the announcement of the Emissions Reduction Plan tomorrow and the Budget on Thursday.

Another Labour MP, Phil Twyford, also tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday and has cancelled plans to travel to Timor-Leste for its 20th anniversary independence celebrations.

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