Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Experts unsure if the move to step 2 next week is the right one

Covid-19 experts are questioning the Government’s decision to relax restrictions in a week’s time as Auckland cases continue to top 100.

On Monday, Cabinet made an in-principle decision to move Auckland to step 2 of level 3 from next Tuesday at 11.59pm, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Step 2 allows retail and public facilities to reopen and the number of people who can meet outside will increase to groups of 25.

Ardern said the move to step 2 next week would remove “some of the pressure and fatigue that we know exists in Auckland”.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said she is “nervous” with the decision as we have yet to see the full impact of senior students returning to school on transmission.

“Cases are still rising, and while we are being reassured that this is not going to overwhelm our health system, we need to remember that Covid-19 is a serious disease and many unvaccinated people who catch the virus will develop Long Covid.”

With vulnerable members in the community, Wiles said it is important that Auckland moves to step 2 that everyone does everything they can to reduce the chances of the virus transmitting.

“That means getting vaccinated if they aren’t yet vaccinated, getting tested if they have symptoms even if vaccinated, and following the mask-wearing and distancing rules, again even if they are fully vaccinated.”

Vaccination certificates are not part of the current alert levels, so will not apply once retailers reopen, Ardern said. Work on those certificates was due by the end of the month, but other forms of proof could be used if needed earlier.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on the projections in the modelling, the ICU units would not be overwhelmed, even at the higher projected rates.

On the modelling showing that cases could soon rise to 1400 a week, and whether that would imperil plans to open more widely before Christmas, Ardern said by that stage 90 per cent of eligible Aucklanders would be double-vaccinated.

Professor Michael Plank said the modelling does not account for any easing of restrictions, which he believes “could lead to an acceleration in cases”.

“We still need to watch cases quite carefully because if we get too many then that will then end up resulting in hospitalisations,” he said.

Plank said restrictions can’t be eased too quickly or it could cause an “explosion” in Covid-19 cases.

“A significant relaxation of restrictions means that there are more contacts and that will push cases in the other direction.”

While he agrees with the decision for restrictions to be eased next week, Plank said the decision will need to be revisited.

“I do think we need to keep that decision under review in case there is a sudden spike in cases, or an increase in our hospital numbers.”

Waikato will also see an easing of restrictions – and moves to level 3 step 2 from tomorrow at 11.59pm.

The rest of the country’s alert levels would remain the same, Ardern said.

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