Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Fears unvaxxed party hosts could spark New Years Eve spread

Big crowds at bars employing vaccine pass rules aren’t those most likely to find themselves as the site of any potential New Year’s Eve super-spreader events, a Covid-19 expert says.

Instead, Professor Michael Baker has warned the biggest threat of new clusters of the Delta variant could come from private parties hosted or attended by those who are unvaccinated.

Under the traffic light system, bars in all areas of New Zealand aside from Northland will be able to operate on New Year’s Eve with no restrictions as long as they abide by vaccine pass regulations.

Northland will remain the only region under the red light setting, which limits gathering sizes at hospitality venues and also means punters must be sitting and not dance.

Baker – an epidemiologist from the University of Otago – believed private gatherings posed the greatest risk when New Zealanders came to farewell 2021 and welcome in 2022 on Friday night.

“The bigger problem I think will potentially be people who may be unvaccinated having, understandably, get-togethers on New Year’s Eve indoors where the virus will be transmitted,” Baker told the Herald.

“And it will take at least a week after that to see the full impact.

“Remember, there are still tens of thousands unvaccinated adults in Auckland, and hundreds of thousands of children who are not vaccinated. The Delta variant can still circulate widely in Auckland and the rest of the country.

“We are still a long way from being under control.”

The moving average of Covid-19 cases in the community has been trending down since peaking at almost 200 a day on November 17.

On Tuesday there were just 18 confirmed cases in the community, while yesterday the figure was 46.

“Obviously over this period we are seeing the effects of low testing which means we are probably picking up fewer cases,” Baker said.

“But we are seeing a slight decline in people hospitalised and in ICU.”

Baker said there were three main reasons why Covid-19 was still transmitting in the community.

These were people who refused or were currently unable to be vaccinated, not following rules and not coming forward and being tested when symptoms first appeared.

There was “potential”, he said, for the Delta variant to be “eliminated” in the community, but that would depend on “doing the three things that are vital; getting vaccinated and boosted, secondly if you have symptoms coming forward and getting tested . . . and thirdly following rules to limit transmission.”

Baker said the latter included staying in family groups, and wearing a mask while indoors with strangers.

And as all of New Zealand – barring Northland – will be in the orange setting from 11.59pm tonight, he said it was imperative that didn’t lead to complacency setting in.

“It is important for people to recognise that moving from the red to the orange is not a sign of the all-clear,” Baker stressed.

“Orange is still a warning colour. It means we are not in the clear.”

Meanwhile, Baker has reacted cautiously to comments made by a leading British professor that widespread Covid-19 deaths and high hospitalisation rates were now “history”.

Sir John Bell – regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford – made the comment to the BBC in reaction to the British Government not increasing restrictions despite the spread of the Omicron variant.

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago — intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely — that is now history in my view and we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue,” Bell said.

Baker said while Omicron might “prove to be” less harmful than the Delta variant, it was still too early to say.

The only cases of Omicron so far detected in New Zealand have been in MIQ, not the community.

“The reason why people are very uncertain about giving a final ruling on [Omicron’s severity] is because it is transmitting in populations at the moment that already have some immunity,” he said.

“It is not like it was a year ago when we had these new infections hitting New Zealand and people had no resistance at all. That is the reason why it is hard to know how less severe it is.

“And we still don’t know the impact on long Covid, the chronic effect, including on children. Everyone wants to still be a bit cautious of this virus.”

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