As reported in the BPS in December, COVID-19 continues to place pressure on New Zealanders' physical and mental wellbeing. This has become particularly acute in past months, with Omicron leading to a marked increase in cases and COVID-19-related hospitalisations and deaths. While there are signs that the Omicron outbreak has peaked, with both cases and hospitalisations on the wane, the pandemic's long-term implications for our people have yet to be fully understood.
The labour market has continued to strengthen since December, with more Kiwis in work than ever before. Wages are also rising, which is helping working New Zealanders to support themselves and their families amid the current cost-of-living pressures. The reopening of the border will help ease labour constraints once net migration increases.
Healthcare services have been disrupted and patterns of inequality in healthcare access have likely deepened, for example through immunisations of young children falling, especially Māori and Pacific children. The New Zealand Health Survey also shows a general increase in the share of the population reporting psychological distress in 2020/21, particularly Pacific peoples, Asian peoples and the young (15 to 24 years old).
While education metrics are showing signs of resilience, the Ministry of Education is seeing reductions in school attendance and early childhood education as more learners are absent due to illness or learning at home in self-isolation. The Ministry tells us these disruptions have been disproportionately experienced by students in Auckland, Tai Tokerau, and Waikato, in low-decile schools, and among Māori and Pacific students.