Covid-19 Delta outbreak: 55 cases, Northland and Waikato in level 3 until Monday

There are 55 new Covid cases and Northland and Waikato will remain in alert level 3 for another five days.

And police are looking for a Covid-positive person who hasn’t been able to be located by the Auckland public health team.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Waikato had recorded great vaccination levels in recent times. He also extended a thanks to Northlanders who had been tested and vaccinated.

He said there still wasn’t confidence in the Covid situation in Northland, due to the reluctance of the travellers from sharing information.

Hipkins said it was difficult to know how responsible they were in their travels because there was limited information on their travel. He said they were providing “very little information” about where they’d been.

He said the best thing for Northlanders to do was to get tested, even if they had very mild symptoms.

On the Waikato staying in level 3, Hipkins said the two unlinked cases were a key factor in keeping the area in the higher alert level.

“We don’t have yet a full understanding of who might be involved in the chain of transmission there.”

The two new Waikato community cases are members of the same household in Hamilton, and they are being transferred today to a local quarantine facility.

Two workplace exposure events have been identified but Hamilton residents are encouraged to check the Ministry of Health’s website for any updates on locations of interest.

Hipkins denied the Government was dragging its heels on tightening the Auckland boundary. He said the reality was that goods and services needed to move through the boundary and it wasn’t feasible to shut it off entirely.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said a review was under way of how people’s testing history is checked, and there was work being done on whether proof of vaccination is necessary for people travelling over the boundary.

Early childhood teacher tests positive

Fifty-three of today’s new cases in Auckland and two in Waikato, says Bloomfield.

A teacher in an early learning centre has tested positive in Auckland. There are 11 close contacts, some of which are children. On the ECE exposure event, Hipkins said the risk of opening up that sector was the same for any sector which had been opened up under alert level 3. He said protocols were put in place to try and keep people safe.

He said the only way to completely rule out risk was to keep people home forever.

Twenty-nine of today’s 55 cases can be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak and 10 of yesterday’s cases are still unlinked. Two cases in Waikato haven’t been linked to the current outbreak, he said.

There are 32 people in hospital with Covid, and six are in ICU.

Following a previously reported exposure event at the Dialysis Unit adjacent to North Shore Hospital, a total of two patients and two staff members have now tested positive for Covid-19. Staff were undergoing rapid antigen testing before their shift. All of the staff in the unit are considered close contacts and have been stood down as a precaution.

On the second Northland traveller, there was another interview with her yesterday but no further locations of interest were revealed.

Bloomfield encouraged Northlanders to seek out a test at the varying sites across the region.

A new Covid-19 case was revealed last night, a truck driver who travelled from Auckland to Northland and back, though Hipkins has already said this won’t necessarily mean level 3 in Northland will be extended. Bloomfield said interviews with the truck driver were ongoing.

Bloomfield didn’t know about the vaccination status of the truck driver who went up to Northland.

Vaccinating truck drivers and other essential workers had been a priority for some time, he said.

Bloomfield said in the absence of a mandatory requirement, there was strong encouragement to get the jab.

Hipkins said the driver was in the region between 3am and midday and many of the businesses they visited were closed. It wasn’t a big factor in the alert level decision for Northland, he said.

The weaknesses at the boundary have come under intense scrutiny as case numbers in Auckland continue to rise, and the virus continues to escape the city.

It has already been carried to Palmerston North, Waikato, and at least twice to Northland.

The rise in cases in Auckland also have public health experts pushing for a “circuit-breaker” return to level 4 for Auckland, though the Government has said that the likelihood of public compliance is a factor in making this unlikely.

On Auckland’s outbreak, Hipkins said the advice he was getting that Covid was spreading in Auckland. The diversity of the parts of the community Covid was infecting was increasing.

He said vaccination would be a very important part in getting Auckland to level 2.

Bloomfield said high testing was fundamental to the ability to control case numbers and keep them as low as possible. People’s compliance was also very important.

Bloomfield said every single case was being followed up by public health officials all over the country to ensure cases were being contacted in a quick time.

Bloomfield described the spread in Auckland as “the shift we are seeing here”.

On anti-vax medical professionals, Hipkins said those people were being “irresponsible” and they were undermining the vaccination effort.

Bloomfield said such people were a very small minority. The medical council and other bodies had had complaints about these people but they had to go through the right process.

Home isolation instead of MIQ

Hipkins said MIQ settings were being actively considered given it was unlikely New Zealand would get back to zero Covid cases.

More news on that was expected in the coming days and weeks.

He wouldn’t comment on whether they were looking at shorter stays or how vaccination would impact that.

Hipkins said there was a requirement for people to be fully vaccinated to get into the country from November. There was an expectation airlines would be checking that before a more thorough check once they landed and there would be penalties for those who had lied about their vaccination status.

On home quarantine as opposed to MIQ, Hipkins said as cases increased, the sustainability of putting every positive case into MIQ was not feasible.

He said work had been ongoing for some time about developing a process for home quarantine.

There would still be MIQ for domestic cases with a higher degree of risk or those who couldn’t isolate at home.

On the conservative release of MIQ rooms recently, Hipkins said fairly soon, it would be moved to a home isolation model for positive cases.

In the last peak a couple of weeks back, MIQ almost reached capacity for how many positive cases could be managed.

The Government was planning for a number of scenarios, including if the health system was overwhelmed, and the Prime Minister would be providing information about that soon.

Hipkins said we had to recognise how other countries had changed their approach to Covid in the face of rising cases and no one had been able to get back to zero once Delta had infected people.

Bloomfield said modelling that indicated thousands of cases and many deaths was based on life at 2022 with open borders and high vaccination rates but without any other public health measures.

He claimed raising alert levels was not supported by experts who had been consulted recently.

Hipkins said it wasn’t clear what the state response would be to Australia’s federal opening of society and would be interested to see what happens there.

6 million jabs given

Six million doses of the vaccine have been delivered across the country as of today.

Seventy-five per cent of the eligible population are either booked in or had a first dose.

He said sport stars and actors would be throwing their support behind the vaccination efforts in the coming days.

There would be 100 additional vaccination sites across NZ on Saturday, dubbed Super Saturday.

There would be dedicated sites for people with disabilities.

There would be vaccination campervans, especially up north, used. DoC would be using boats and four-wheelers. Planes would be used as well.

Earlier

Auckland will stay in step 1 of level 3 until at least 11.59pm next Tuesday, with Cabinet meeting on Monday to review that setting.

There have been no cases detected in Northland, but two women who later tested positive for the virus travelled there from Auckland at the start of October.

One of them has been co-operating with public health officials since she was caught by police on Monday night, but so far only one additional location of interest – a Subway eatery in Whangārei – has been published since then.

Whangārei tyre business Steve Taylor Tyres posted itself as a location of interest on its Facebook page yesterday after the truck driver – who later tested positive – was on site at the Kamo premises on October 9.

This is yet to be added to the Ministry of Health’s official locations of interest site.

Hipkins said this morning that there was potentially only one day of exposure events from the truck driver’s Northland visit.

There were three new cases in Waikato yesterday, but they were all already in isolation as they were household contacts of a known case.

There were no unlinked cases in Waikato as of yesterday, and testing rates have been good.

But the number of active unlinked cases in Auckland has ballooned. Yesterday there were 74 such cases, the seventh straight day the number has risen. A week ago there were 15.

There were 40 new cases in Auckland yesterday, and Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says the number of cases – now doubling roughly every 12 days – could hit 160 by early November.

Epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig said level 4 in Auckland should be considered.

“A move back to alert level 4 is the best and probably only chance of reversing these highly-concerning trends that are all moving in the wrong direction. Vaccination is not going to happen fast enough to reverse these trends and we need to buy time.”

Hipkins said this morning that the virus was now spreading wider around Auckland, which made it more imperative for people to get vaccinated.

It was going to be increasingly difficult to keep the virus from leaking out of Auckland, he said.

“It’s a question of time before we start to see cases popping up around the country and we need to be ready for that.”

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