Saturday, November 27

Covid-19: Seven Auckland suburbs, focus of mysterious cases

Seven Auckland suburbs will be the focus of testing and contact tracing this week as health officials try to decipher the mysterious Covid cases that will likely keep the city at level 4.

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Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The government says it will not make a decision on the city’s alert levels until it has all the information in front of it in Cabinet today, but most experts hope there will be no move to level 3.

Health officials are hunting for the virus in Mt Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.

That was where they had the biggest concerns about the 34 cases with no known ties to current groups.

Auckland’s councilman for Manukau, Alf Filipaina, has four of the suburbs on his patch.

People were nervous, he said.

“They feel anxious because we have been locked up since August 17,” he said.

People were eager to do whatever it took to get out of level 4, he said.

He supported increased testing and also wanted more vaccines.

Health authorities had already conducted surveillance tests: they were looking for the virus in asymptomatic people rather than waiting for it to appear when people fell ill.

Last week they were at essential workplaces, including Countdown’s distribution center and its two department stores for online deliveries.

University of Auckland professor of public health Colin Tukuitonga said the tests should also include supermarket customers in areas of interest because that’s a place where a lot of people go at alert level 4.

Dr. Colin Tukuitonga

University of Auckland professor of public health Colin Tukuitonga says the city faces a “classic long tail” from Covid.
Photo: PMA

Ongoing testing was also conducted on border and health personnel, as well as new testing for those who cross city limits to work.

Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there was no evidence of widespread community transmission in Auckland.

But Dr. Tukuitonga said the city now faces a “classic long tail” from Covid, where case numbers can take a long time to disappear and jump.

“The worst case scenario is that we are missing a group or sub-group somewhere,” he said.

He was concerned about the cases that came out of nowhere at Middlemore Hospital over the past week, although some of them had now been linked to existing groups.

All the mystery cases could be solved in just a few days if all went well, and more aggressive contact tracing was needed to really bring them into focus, he said.

Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson said the Delta variant was more challenging for tracers because people became infectious more quickly.

“They are running against time to find their contacts before they become infectious, because as soon as they become infectious, it can go crazy,” he said.

In addition to focusing on this outbreak, the city, and the rest of the country, must prepare for the inevitable next one, he said.

That meant vaccinations.

There was a big boost in Auckland, with almost 74,000 people vaccinated from Friday to Sunday, thousands of them via drive-through.

But Professor Jackson wanted that to increase even further, with vaccination centers 24 hours a day and weekly pop-ups in all large workplaces.

Councilor Alf Filipaina agreed that there must be options that suit everyone, such as going to people’s homes or setting up neighborhood centers.

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