It is a defining week for the Covid outbreak in Auckland, as stubborn case numbers stagnate.
Experts say the impact of lowering restrictions to level 3 won’t start to show for another day or two, and it could go either way.
There were calls for a major new targeted approach, including door-to-door testing where the virus could be lurking.
After a single-digit drop on Friday, with nine cases, there were 34 more over the weekend: 18 on Sunday and 16 on Saturday.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said the persistent numbers, plus the rare case that came out of nowhere, were signs that the virus was still spreading in parts of Auckland.
“The concern I have is that we are not really improving,” he said.
It was time to reconsider: an intense and targeted campaign in the areas where Delta was trying to establish itself, he said.
That had been going on to some degree, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calling last week for everyone in the Clover Park suburb to get tested. About a fifth have.
Professor Baker said that you should go further, and not let people show up.
Social workers and police should work with health officials to reach out to marginalized groups, such as gangs, he said.
And teams should go door-to-door in areas of concern, checking for symptoms and asking for people to be tested, offering a vaccine at the same time, he said.
“It really is because of that level of intensity of focus if we are really going to eradicate the virus in Auckland right now.”
University of Auckland public health specialist Collin Tukuitonga supported the approach.
The city was at a turning point, he said.
Reaching zero cases was still a possibility, albeit remote, but it was important to keep working hard to contain the outbreak to single-digit numbers, he said.
Auckland district health boards said they were already sending testers door-to-door, including to streets where there had been multiple cases.
Baker was talking about broader surveillance tests to search for undetected Covid.
The Pacific Health Group, Fono CEO Tevita Funaki, said they tested people, usually close contacts, in their homes.
“It helps with anxiety and also its acceptance.”
More extensive door-to-door surveillance was a good idea, he said.
Dr. Tukuitonga said that persistent cases make vaccination even more critical, especially where there are gaps.
Health officials wanted 90 percent of Auckland residents to be vaccinated with at least one dose by October 4.
That was now 82 percent overall, but only 57 percent for Maori Aucklanders and 66 for Pasifika.
“If we don’t increase those rates quickly, the outbreak could flare up again and become quite explosive,” Tukuitonga said.
Funaki said there was a great response to The Fono’s mobile vaccination bus, with many churches, community groups and employers asking them to come forward.
The mobile approach worked well because they could easily reach multiple locations in one day, he said.
Baker said that while the deployment continued, it was crucial to keep eliminating the virus or risk a large outbreak like Melbourne or Sydney with restrictions for weeks or months while the vaccination rate recovered.