A leading immunologist says that while widespread vaccination is the only long-term way to curb Covid-19, the rate of immunization should not be the only factor in ending the elimination strategy.
The director of the Malaghan Medical Research Institute and the Vaccine Alliance program director Professor Graham Le Gros says that social and economic pressures and the number of people who can withstand the restrictions should also determine when to abandon removal.
“This is just an event that crossed the border and look at the chaos, a month of lockdown, a billion dollars a week that is just not sustainable in the long term and all the pressure that people are under … family problems, schools, the devastation of the economy and additional health problems.
“People don’t have their colonoscopies, they don’t have their skin checked for melanoma, they don’t have their heart checked – all of those things are really big health problems.”
Le Gros says that bringing the population’s vaccination rate to 85-90 percent would be an important step toward opening up the country.
“It would be great because getting all vulnerable people safe was the first goal and then we reached out to the very young.
“I think then we can be sure that we can somehow deal with this virus in our community because you have to realize that this Delta virus is good, we are not fully catching it.”
If the tail of the outbreak cannot be contained, Le Gros says the health system should now be in a position to cope with the consequences.
“Even though we talk about the hospital systems being overwhelmed, I’m sure they must be working on the capacity of the nursing system to deal with and set up infectious critical care units and that sort of thing, they’ve had a year, so hopefully. it will also be in place. “
Auckland cannot afford to stay at alert level 4 until the population is 85 to 90 percent vaccinated, it says.
“I think that’s where the financials, the other health issues, and the societal pressures really start to come into play and I think if you’re 70-80 percent vaccinated even with a single puncture, you’re in pretty good shape to be. able to withstand the main effects of this virus.
“I’m not ruling out elimination just yet … but you also have to face the facts if the virus has escaped and remains underground until it reappears, then let’s focus on vaccination and learning to live with the virus.”
Meanwhile, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff believes that lowering alert levels this week seems increasingly unlikely after mysterious cases of the virus were found at Middlemore Hospital.
But if the level of alert that is lowering is not in the cards, there is a new blow to the confidence of local companies.
Phil Goff says the City Council will seek support from the central government as the nation’s largest city undergoes its longest lockdown.
“I think we must stay the course, we have made a sacrifice now of four weeks and we are not going to raise the alert level if there is still the risk that the Covid infection could spread throughout the community, but every day that happens “. Beyond the first four weeks, Alert Level 4 stresses on individuals and businesses are certainly mounting.
“Companies have remained there a bit with the economic recovery rate since the last blockade being better than we expected, unemployment fell, we obtained good economic growth, but the operations of companies and people cannot be stopped. They work at no real economic cost, so we are putting together a number of things that the government might need to look at. “
Goff says that some Auckland business owners are calling for government support payments to be extended to alert level 2.
“There are a variety of things that are really useful at the moment, resurgence support payments and wage subsidies, there is a discussion in the business community in Auckland that they could be extended to level 2 when we get that far and Covid -19 the resurgence payment could be paid weekly instead of biweekly.
“I understand that the government is under pressure from everyone, they do not have unlimited funds, but I think it is fair that any part of the country receives support in proportion to the high level of burden they are bearing.”
Goff says the lockdown is hurting the pockets of the most vulnerable with demand for food bank packages 260-270 percent higher than in the first lockdown.
“It is the most vulnerable communities that are feeling this most strongly, you already know the families that barely survived with a normal salary, but when that salary is reduced because the business they work for cannot operate, they can no longer do so. subsist below subsistence level “.
Goff says the big challenge for Auckland now is vaccination.
“74 percent of the population has already been vaccinated for the first time or has been reserved for vaccination, but it is what we do now to reach those hard-to-reach and perhaps vaccine-reluctant communities so that we reach the level that need”.
Goff says health authorities have been vaccinating about 25,000 people a day for the past three days.
Ahead of today’s cabinet meeting to decide on any changes to lockdown levels, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says case numbers are now just one factor in determining the status of the outbreak.
“It is interesting that with Delta the total number of cases is really just a factor now because we know that with Delta which, once it is in a household, it tends to infect a fairly high percentage of the people in that household, it can have a high numbers of cases that can potentially be related to one or two people’s households. “
“What we are seeing are the so-called mystery cases, the cases that arise and that are not immediately obviously connected to an existing case. What happens every day is that we work to analyze those cases, we do interviews with people and for the vast majority of them there is a link, so we have to continue with that process. “
Robertson says the latest information from the Health Ministry on these mystery cases will influence today’s government alert level decision.
“We have reduced them [mystery cases] up to maybe three subgroups where that’s happening right now, so we’ll take a look at the advice we’re getting today from the Ministry of Health as to the extent to which they feel those mystery cases are under control and that will be a factor in our decision making “.
Meanwhile, other parts of the country could lower alert levels further while Auckland remains at level 4, says Robertson.
“That is not impossible, but it is something we have to look at very carefully and I understand that for people outside of Auckland, especially for the South Island, it is quite frustrating to even find themselves at level 2 when they have not had a case for a long time. weather.
“This is not about the South Island and if we think there is a case there, it is about the fact that we have an outbreak in Auckland that we have not fully contained yet and the risk of it spreading beyond that limit.”
“If it spreads to a Level 1 environment, it is much more difficult to manage than if it spreads to a Level 2 environment where we have more restrictions.”
Regarding the risks of the virus spreading outside Auckland, Robertson says the couple who violated the blackout rules to travel from Auckland to Wanaka put all New Zealanders at risk.
“[It’s] potentially dangerous, but more than anything else, grossly irresponsible and selfish from my point of view.
“We are working very hard to establish a limit that helps protect all of New Zealand, but if someone pretends to be in an essential job and then goes on vacation, that puts everyone at risk.”
Robertson acknowledges that the couple was an exception to the “vast majority” of Auckland residents who adhere to the lockdown rules.