Thursday, December 9

See: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Auckland to be locked up for another week


Auckland will remain at Covid-19 alert level 4 for another week until 11:59 p.m. next Tuesday, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The cabinet has made a decision in principle that Tāmaki Makaurau will then go to alert level 3.

The rest of New Zealand will remain at Alert Level 2 until Tuesday next week.

The alert level settings will be reviewed next Monday.

Ardern says the Cabinet has made an indicative decision on Auckland, but has not made one on the rest of New Zealand going to alert level 1.

While there is nothing to indicate that Covid-19 is outside of Auckland, lower restrictions in the rest of the country would mean a much higher risk of spread if it escaped, he says.

Having the rest of the country at alert level 2 provides a greater chance of wiping out the virus if it leaves Auckland, he says.

Auckland has been at alert level 4 since midnight on August 17 after an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

The cabinet has seen evidence and advice that Alert Level 4 is working, saying it has steadily lowered the R value below 1, and it is now around 0.6, Ardern says.

“On that basis and following the advice of the Director General of Health, Auckland will remain at alert level 4 until 11:59 pm next Tuesday 21 September.”

Health Director-General Dr. Ashley Bloomfield says the “lockdown is working” and the ministry is targeting only a small number of cases.

“Testing is at a good level … so our opinion and our advice is that another week locked in at alert level 4 in Auckland gives us our best chance to really finish the job here.

“Our view is that we are doing everything right. It is paying off and we have to do it and there are good reasons for wanting to eliminate the virus again,” says Bloomfield.

“It allows us to enjoy a wide range of activities and for the economy to work again.”

He says that next week’s focus is finding cases.

Cases and evidence

Ardern says there are 33 new community cases to report today, but only one of them is currently unlinked.

“As with the cases reported yesterday, only one remains unrelated to the broader outbreak at this time.”

Ardern says that in some cases where an epidemiological link could not be built, genome sequencing can still tell authorities how the case fits into the outbreak.

They hope to have more information on the only case still unlinked that was reported today.

Ardern says one reason for the higher numbers over the weekend is high transmission rates within households.

Bloomfield mentioned yesterday that about 16 percent of very close contacts become cases.

“That in itself will generate around 50 other cases in the next few days and we are starting to see some of them materialize.”

The number of unrelated cases is increasing and decreasing every day, says Bloomfield.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chief Health Officer Dr. Ashley Bloomfield update the closure of the Covid 19 Post Office in Beehive.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chief Health Officer Dr. Ashley Bloomfield update on the closure of the Covid-19 Post Office in Beehive.
Photo: Pool Image / Robert Kitchin / Stuff

At 9 a.m. there were 17 unrelated cases, but only a small number of them really concerned the ministry.

Ardern says surveillance tests of health workers and essential workers have also failed to identify any transmission.

“It is also clear that there is no widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland.”

Ardern says there are two key features of recent cases that are of interest. She says there are three groups that still have emerging cases, and there is a continuing surge of cases that are initially unrelated.

“Mystery cases are still coming in, and the fact that we find them through community surveillance and testing rather than through contact tracing, that’s what worries us because that presents a risk.”

She says there are seven suburbs of interest where people should be especially vigilant for symptoms. They are: Mt Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.

She says that one of the points the health team has made is that they are more concerned about some unrelated cases than others.

“There are actually only three or four that we talked about in great detail because there really is no initial indication of what happened.”

Cases that are still of concern include a case in Mt Eden and cases that have reached Middlemore.

She says additional testing is being done to support where such cases arise “until an epidemiological link is found.”

That leaves two tasks very clear: active cluster management and surveillance and community testing, Ardern says.

The third question is to get tested for even mild symptoms. “Please don’t put it down to the chills of winter, we know there isn’t much of that right now. The flu trade in particular is showing it to us.”

Vaccines

Ardern says the government wants as many Auckland residents as possible to have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the week. She says people who booked for October should consider connecting again and see if more bookings have been opened.

Another option is to go to a self-service vaccination clinic, without the need for a reservation.

Ardern says he defends his earlier statements that the government does not want to continue using the closures, but we must make sure we have enough New Zealanders vaccinated.

“That is why New Zealanders are also empowered. They have the opportunity to get away from the lockdown as much as we do, by being vaccinated.”

Bloomfield says we are vaccinating at a great rate and that it is important to get to the highest level possible. He says that it is also not good if there are foci within the community that are not vaccinated, so they are also focusing on vaccines in smaller communities.

They are also taking a closer look at vaccinations for children ages five to 11, he says.

There is very good data, even just from this outbreak in New Zealand, on the effectiveness of vaccines, says Bloomfield.

“The risk of both becoming a case, and certainly being hospitalized, is much lower if you are fully vaccinated, and it is lower even with a single vaccine. So that’s real world evidence, real evidence from New Zealand, that the vaccine protects you and your family from Covid-19 “.

Even with high levels of vaccination, you still need other restrictions to be able to handle the burden on the healthcare system, he says.

“We are watching very closely what is happening with other countries where they have contracted the virus in the community with high vaccination rates and the impact it is having on the health system.”

He says the UK is a good example, reporting 6,000 new hospitalizations last Friday, which in population terms would equate to 600 new hospital cases on any given day. “That’s a lot for our healthcare system to cope with.”

However, he says that with high levels of vaccination, it means a much less impact on health care.

He says he would attribute the lower vaccination rates of Maori to the fact that “we still have more work to do.” He says the challenge and focus now is to increase rates among younger Maori.

Message to Aucklanders

“For all Auckland residents, you have done an incredible job thus far protecting yourself, your family and your community,” says Ardern.

“We owe him a huge debt of gratitude … but the cases tell us we have additional work to do.”

She says that after four weeks of confinement, it might be tempting to relax her bubble, but she asks everyone to treat each other as seriously every day as they did the first day.

People should have a person assigned to go to the supermarket, says Ardern.


www.rnz.co.nz

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