Facts on Covid and its Varients
What is COVID-19
Information about COVID-19 including where the virus came from, how it spreads, current variants of concern including Omicron, and treatments.
On this page
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It affects your lungs, airways and other organs. Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold. Other recent diseases caused by coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). SARS-CoV-2 was first recognised in China and likely originated in animals. It is still unclear how the virus came to infect humans. The disease spread to other countries, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The virus has since undergone genetic mutations over time as it adapts to humans. Some of these mutations can spread more easily than the original virus.
Variants of COVID-19
It is a natural process for viruses to change or mutate, which may produce variants. Variants are developing around the world. This tends to happen in places where the virus is out of control. WHO is tracking variants of concern and variants of interest. Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants | WHO website(external link) Variants of COVID-19 may affect how fast the virus spreads, or how sick people get from the virus. The current variants of concern are:
Alpha — first found in the United Kingdom
Beta — first found in South Africa
Gamma — first found in Brazil
Delta — first found in India
Omicron — first found in South Africa.
The Ministry of Health is providing updates on these variants.
About the Omicron variant
Omicron was first found in November 2021 and classed as a variant of concern by WHO. It has spread worldwide and is now present in more than 70 countries. Early evidence suggests it is more transmissible than previous variants of the virus, including Delta. But research is still underway and more data is needed to understand the extent of Omicron’s increased transmissibility. We expect more international data in the coming weeks. The possibility of new variants is why we continue to perform whole-genome sequencing on every case that enters New Zealand. Unlike travellers to many other countries, travellers to New Zealand must still have a series of COVID-19 tests and a period of isolation. These precautions reduce the chances of Omicron entering the community. Any potential impacts for New Zealand will be on this website. COVID-19: About the Omicron variant(external link) How Omicron is different from earlier variants We are still learning about this new variant of the virus. Early reports suggest that, compared to Delta:
Omicron is more transmissible
Omicron may cause similar symptoms, but more data is still needed
Omicron has similar hospitalisation rates, but more information is still needed to determine disease severity.
How to protect ourselves
To protect ourselves and our whānau from Omicron, we need to keep up the healthy habits we know.
When you are out and about this summer, remember to wear a mask, scan in, and have My Vaccine Pass ready so that we can make summer unstoppable.
How COVID-19 spreads
COVID-19 is usually spread from person to person. When an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs, sneezes or sings, they may spread particles containing the virus. These particles range in size. Larger and heavier particles — droplets — quickly fall to the ground or other surfaces within seconds or minutes. Smaller particles — aerosols — can remain airborne for minutes to hours. Spread of the virus by aerosols appears to be more important than previously thought.
The risk of airborne transmission becomes higher:
in enclosed spaces that do not have good airflow
in crowded places with many people nearby
in close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations, singing, or shouting.
The risk is lower outside, with fewer people, and if people are widely spread. How to protect yourself and others Keeping up healthy habits can slow the spread of the virus and help protect you, your whānau, and your community from COVID-19. Even if you are vaccinated, you still need to keep up these habits.
Regularly wash and thoroughly dry your hands.
Sneeze and cough into your elbow.
Keep a 2 metre distance from people you do not know.
Clean or disinfect shared surfaces often.
Wear a face mask.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are like common illnesses such as the cold or flu. Some people will only experience mild to moderate symptoms. Older people, ethnic minorities, and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus. Some people who have had the virus are suffering health impacts longer than a few weeks or months. This is commonly referred to as Long COVID.
COVID-19 causes 2 major issues that cause harm when someone is infected — a viral attack on the body and in some cases an immune reaction. Studies for new treatments cover both issues and concentrate on 3 areas.
Antiviral drugs limiting the ability of the virus to thrive in the body.
Medicines that calm the immune system over-reaction prompted in some patients.
Antibody treatments that help the body fight the virus.