Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Caution urged as Auckland eyes alert level move; virus spreads to Ngāruawāhia

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says daily Covid cases could peak at 200 in November, according to the latest modelling.

It comes as Cabinet will review alert level settings in Auckland and Waikato today, with both regions eyeing a move out of strict lockdown restrictions, which one group says has cost Auckland nearly $1 billion in lost consumer spending.

Ardern declined to discuss what Cabinet would decide later today on Auckland and Waikato alert levels. But she said she would be sharing updated modelling expectations at the post-Cabinet press conference.

Ardern told The AM Show that daily cases could peak at 200 this month.

However, this was estimated to be the peak as the vaccination rate improved.

When asked about Freedom Day, she said they needed people to be vaccinated.

“People shouldn’t just sit and wait for a date.”

Experts are warning the Government to hold the line today, saying any further loosening of restrictions could see case numbers soar, swamping hospitals with sick Covid patients.

Both Auckland and Waikato are at alert level 3, step one – essentially a level 3 lockdown, with some outdoor gathering restrictions lifted.

Ardern said Cabinet would be looking at the “step-downs” and the next step was around opening up retail.

“Essentially those are the considerations for us, do we believe what’s happening now is predictable.” She said at the moment cases numbers were travelling fairly predictably. In terms of reaching the 90 per cent vaccination target, things were tracking really well in Auckland.

Asked if she planned to visit Auckland, Ardern said it would have consequences for the Government’s Covid response as she would then have to isolate back in Wellington.

“If I go to Auckland I’m out of action for five days.”

Reflecting on the death of Dame Catherine Tizard, Ardern said she was a wonderful person who was a huge role model for women in politics and in leadership. “She was such a quick-witted and wise person who was willing to share her time and her knowledge with others.”

Ngāruawāhia records first case

This morning, it was revealed that Covid had spread to the small Waikato town of Ngāruawāhia.

Nga-Miro Health-Centre confirmed the case last night on social media. A testing station has been set up at Ngāruawāhia Panthers Rugby League grounds on Whatawhata Ave in Ngāruawāhia and will open at 10am today.

“We advise whānau to get tested and vaccinated if they haven’t already to protect them and their whānau,” the post said.

“We also encourage whānau to restrict their movements and stay home to contain the spread in our community. Be vigilant about wearing a mask if you need to leave your home.”

Locations of interest would be announced in the coming days. It is understood the person
was a contact of a Hamilton case.

Record case numbers

A decision to lift restrictions today would be set against the backdrop of high community case numbers over the weekend, including a new daily record of 160 new cases, which was reported on Saturday.

There were a further 143 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total for the weekend to 303.

The weekend also saw thousands of protesters take to the streets in Auckland to rally against the continuing lockdown and vaccination mandates.

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Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Shaun Hendy urged caution saying the current reproduction rate of the virus – the “R rate” – remained above 1, meaning the outbreak was continuing to grow.

“We will continue to see an increase in cases despite the increasing vaccination numbers,” Hendy said.

“In fact, the Government’s approach has been to trade off any gains that vaccination has been giving us with relaxation of restrictions.

“It can only play that game for so long before we start to see real strain on the hospital system and the need to triage cases.”

Hendy says we have another “couple of weeks” of community case numbers rising, he told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme.

“It is quite concerning,” he said of the Covid community cases rising each day.
If we get up to 200 to 300 cases, that would put a lot of strain on the health system in Auckland, Hendy said.

“I don’t think we can relax…until we start to see those numbers drop,” he said when asked about Auckland’s potential move down from the current alert level 3 phase one.
Hendy went on to explain that a circuit breaker at this stage would really bring the number of unlinked community cases down.

That, as well as Auckland likely to hit the 90 per cent first vaccine dose soon, would really help reel things in.

Hendy acknowledged that the Covid situation in Christchurch seemed to be in control at this stage.

However, the case of a person who was in the Garden City and then tested positive on arrival in Tonga meant health officials still needed to be alert about where other potential cases in Christchurch could still be.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said there were no surprises in the high number of cases.

“With the current constraints it’s an exponential rise [in cases] but fortunately it’s a very shallow curve,” Baker said, warning “it’s hard to imagine any justification for lowering alert level in Auckland”.

He said the thing to watch in coming days was whether increasing cases were putting pressure on the hospital system.

Auckland business association Heart of the City said the city was “on track to hit $1 billion loss in consumer spending [compared to 2019],” before vaccination levels were high enough to move to the new traffic light system.

Chief executive Viv Beck said there was “a growing sense of desperation and a call to allow vaccinated people to earn a living, before it’s too late”.

On Sunday National upped its criticism of the Government’s handling of the latest outbreak, saying it now wanted a full Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Government’s preparations for a Delta outbreak.

Leader Judith Collins said that the Government appeared not to have planned for Delta, and left the population vulnerable.

“When Delta hit, less than 20 per cent of our population was fully vaccinated.

“It is now clear the Government went ‘all in’ on the elimination strategy and assumed it would work to beat Delta.

“While other countries were vaccinating as quickly as possible and investing in contact tracing, rolling out saliva testing and utilising rapid antigen testing, New Zealand followed the same playbook that worked in 2020,” Collins said.

The Government is also facing questions about two Covid-positive people who absconded from the Jet Park quarantine facility on Saturday and were yet to be found last night.

Auckland remains the epicentre of the outbreak, although Waikato reported 13 cases over the weekend and Northland reported three.

Of cases reported in the last fortnight, 384 have yet to be linked, indicating widespread community transmission.

On Sunday, Covid was detected in wastewater in Huntly in Waikato. There are currently no known cases there, suggesting an unknown outbreak.

As of Sunday, 56 people were in hospital with Covid-19, up from 47 the day before – two were in ICU.

Meanwhile eight residents and one staff member at Henderson’s Edmonton Meadows care home have tested positive for the virus and officials are still trying to confirm the source of infection. Two of the residents have been transferred to hospital for care.

The vaccination rollout brought some more positive news. About 82,000 vaccinations were reported on Saturday and Sunday (taking in the vaccinations that took place on Friday and Saturday).

Each day, nearly 10,000 of those doses were first doses – helping DHBs inch towards their targets of getting 90 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.

As of Sunday, four DHBs – Waitemata, Auckland, Capital and Coast, and Canterbury – have given 90 per cent of their eligible populations at least one jab. The remaining 16 were lagging.

The two slowest were Tairawhiti, which has vaccinated just 78 per cent of its eligible population, and Northland, for whom the measure was 79 per cent.

At the current pace, it will still take at least two months before the Government hits its goal of getting 90 per cent of people in all DHBs vaccinated.

Once that target has been reached, the whole country will move to the Government’s new traffic light Covid system, which allows significantly greater freedoms.

It is expected, however, that Auckland will move earlier with experts predicting the region’s three DHBs should be all at a 90 per cent double-vaccination rate by early December. The slowest of the three, Counties Manukau, is now at a 89 per cent first-jab rate, with just over 5000 jabs to go to hit 90 per cent.

The Government has said it would review progress towards the 90 per cent target for all of the DHBs on November 29.

It is not clear what the Government will do on that date, if many DHBs are still well short of having 90 per cent of their eligible populations fully vaccinated.

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