The government is being urged to curb allowing Auckland residents to hit stores this week, as case numbers rise.
He will confirm after his cabinet meeting today if he should go ahead as planned and allow stores to open and increase the outdoor meeting limit to 25.
But with 319 new cases over the weekend and more than 1,000 in the past seven days, health experts fear that daily case numbers will hit 1,000 a day by Christmas if the spread is allowed to escalate further.
Public health professor Collin Tukuitonga said the time was not right to ease the restrictions.
“The outbreak could explode and get out of control,” he said.
Covid modeler Shaun Hendy agreed, saying the virus was outperforming vaccines designed to slow it down.
The gains from the implementation were being consumed by easing of restrictions, and possibly by the lack of compliance of some Aucklanders weary of the lockdown, he said.
It was possible, with fewer restrictions, that the number of daily cases would continue to double every fortnight or so, reaching four figures in December.
But modeling was difficult with so many factors and it was possible that the outbreak could peak as soon as two weeks if there were tight controls, he said.
A loosening of the restrictions would mean more cases and more serious illnesses: there were already a record 74 people in the hospital.
“We are starting to get to the point where we will put a lot of pressure on hospital beds and staff capacity, so we need to put the breaks at this point and rethink it or we could be facing a much worse scenario,” he added. he said.
All the experts said they understood that Auckland residents had overcome it and that placed the government in a delicate situation.
Sue Crengle, co-leader of the national Maori pandemic group Te Rōpu Whakakaupapa Urutā, said the government introduced level 3 too early and should avoid the same mistake.
“Being locked up is difficult and people are getting tired of it. We understand that there are other political considerations that the government needs to take into account, but we still believe that we should stick to science, just for a little longer,” she said .
The Urutā group had wanted level 4 to be in place longer, hoping to avoid more cases and a prolonged lockdown.
Maori now account for about half of all cases.
Along with low vaccination rates, they were now the most vulnerable to getting sick if current controls were loosened, he said.
It only took a few more weeks to improve Maori immunization, and Maori-led vaccinators quickly caught up, he said.
Figures from the Health Ministry showed signs that the system was already under pressure.
The vast majority of the 2,564 people currently suffering from Covid were at home; only 401 were in quarantine or in the hospital.
But the ministry said it was only supporting 816 of them to isolate themselves at home, leaving a question mark over who was supervising more than 1,300 more.
Dr. Tukuitonga said that so many people who self-isolate were risky for patients in terms of making sure everyone received good care, but also for their families who could get the virus.
And there was the added risk that some people didn’t understand or follow the self-isolation rules, he said.
However, there was good news in the outbreak.
Last night, Manukau DHB counties reached the 90 percent milestone, meaning that at least 90 percent of Auckland residents, across all DHB areas, had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Experts said that if Maori rates were lifted and restrictions held a little longer, that would allow the implementation to have the best chance of reducing cases and saving lives.