Covid 19 Delta outbreak and lockdown: 83 new cases on Sunday, PM Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield provide update

There are 83 Covid community cases today, taking the total cases in the outbreak to 511.

Of the new cases, 82 are in Auckland and one in Wellington – a close contact of a previous case.

The number is similar to the total reported yesterday – and officials and experts will be hoping this signals that the country’s Delta outbreak might be at a plateau.

In Auckland there are 496 cases and 15 in Wellington.

There are seven subclusters. In the Birkdale one 68 and Māngere church 237.

There are 34 people in hospital and two in ICU.

Of those in hospital, three are at North Shore, 18 in Middlemore, 13 at Auckland City Hospital and one in Wellington.

Locations of interest are being removed from the website after 18 days.

As of 10am there were over 32,000 contacts. Of these over 26,000, 80 per cent, had been followed up. Over 85 per cent had a test so far.

There are over 1700 contact tracers available.

There are 784 very close contacts, 88 per cent have had contact. Of those 78 per cent had results.

There are over 29,000 close contacts.

Over 23,000 swabs were taken yesterday.

Whole genome sequencing had been run on 343 cases, all shown to be linked to the current outbreak.

The virus was found in a Warkworth wastewater sample.

Ongoing wastewater testing was occurring, with 125 sites tested through the outbreak.

All residents in the Warkworth rest home have so far returned negative tests – good news, says Bloomfield.

Ardern said on the cases reported yesterday more than 75 per cent were cases of known contacts. Over half household contacts.

Only 2 considered infectious before level 4 restrictions came in.

Of these, 25 had exposure events outside the household. These tended to be essential workplace sites, and non-public facing.

There were a small number of workplaces that had seen transmission within staff – four to date.

The Government was seeking further information and would tighten restrictions if necessary.

It was believed transmission occurred at 21 locations of interest.

There were two sites they knew a large number of cases came from. One was the Assembly of God Church and the other was AUT, where 20 plus cases came from so far.

Ardern said having positive cases and the lockdown could be hugely unsettling, impacting on mental health.

It was OK to feel frustrated, and there were places to go for help, Ardern said.

There had been a spike in calls to Youthline in the last lockdowns. An additional $1m would be put into increasing support, particularly for rangatahi in Auckland and Northland.

There was also targeted assistance for Pacific communities, which had borne the brunt of the outbreak so far.

People who did not feel safe at home in their bubble can leave their bubble, Ardern said.

There was also assistance for those struggling to access food. Yesterday an extra $7m was announced to assist with things like distributing food parcels and welfare packages.

More motel units had also been contracted to assist those who could be sleeping rough.

These were “just a snapshot” of supports being put in place to help people through tackling Covid, Ardern said.

On the people in hospital, Ardern said it was “deeply concerning”

It was why the Government had taken the actions it had. Delta was known to be more infectious, and lead to more hospitalisations.

COVID-19 vaccine update

Yesterday 77,965 vaccines were administered. Of these 55,779 were first doses and 22,177 were second doses.

More than 3.28 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to date.

Of these, over 2.1 million are first doses and more than 1.14 million are second doses.

More than 194,133 Māori have received their first vaccination. Of these, more than 104,146 have also had their second vaccinations.

More than 125,495 doses first doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Of these, more than 70,754 have also received their second doses.

Given over 40 per cent of those in hospital were under 30 years, Bloomfield said it did reflect the situations overseas. The overall hospitalisation rate was 6-7 per cent, a little higher than before, Bloomfield said.

Vaccination was “the best thing” people could do to protect themselves and others, Ardern said.

Ardern said this outbreak was not like the first lockdown. In the first lockdown there was little known about how many cases there were, the testing was at a different level. They were also dealing with a different variant.

Bloomfield said during that first outbreak they were not picking up all the cases. In terms of progress, the R rate was now below 1 and needed to be even lower, Bloomfield said.

Nothing so far had given them cause to rethink the situation for Auckland and Northland, both likely to see an extension to level 4 come Monday, Ardern said.

If there was evidence things needed to be tightened up to contain the virus spread they would do so, Ardern said.

EARLIER

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield are fronting today’s 1pm press conference. Watch it live here.

There were 82 community cases and one MIQ case yesterday – the most daily community cases up until then – and a nervous week lies ahead as the country waits to see whether lockdown has done enough to quash the virus, or simply to slow it.

It was revealed this morning that a worker at a managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid – and 73 essential workers have been infected so far in the Delta outbreak.

The Ministry of Health says an investigation is under way into how the staff member at the Four Points by Sheraton in central Auckland was infected.

But a spokesperson says they are potentially linked to the community outbreak. Whole genome sequencing is being undertaken to confirm their source of infection.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service is identifying a small number of close contacts. All workers in managed isolation facilities wear appropriate PPE.

The ministry says around 73 of the 429 cases in the Auckland cluster are essential workers. It is unclear how many were infected after New Zealand went into lockdown on August 18.

Of the cases recorded between 18 and 27 August, 72 per cent are as yet unlinked through their household to other cases.

Over the same period 55 per cent of cases had exposure events related to them and are therefore considered to have been infectious in the community. Most of the exposure events created by these cases were prior to Alert Level 4.

STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG

STORY CONTINUES

Cabinet will meet again tomorrow to decide on Auckland’s alert level, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already said it was almost certain that Auckland and Northland would have level 4 extended for at least another week, and Auckland for at least at another two weeks.

Northland was expected to stay at level 4 as a precaution because of concerns about a positive case in a worker at a rest home near Warkworth.

That person had worked for two days while infectious, but was fully vaccinated and was wearing the PPE required for level 4.

Ardern has also indicated more information will be available on the spread of the virus – including any spread during lockdown rather than before lockdown, and what proportion of cases are household contacts rather than those who caught it elsewhere.

Meanwhile, an Auckland University medical expert says it’s “entirely predictable” case numbers are increasing and he is not particularly concerned, given the lag in testing.

“My suspicion is that level four is working very well and that cases have already peaked but we may see a delay in reporting [the numbers],” Auckland University School of Medicine Professor Des Gorman told Newstalk ZB’s Francesca Rudkin today.

“The thing we we have to look for are infections arising after lockdown and the groups to watch, of course, will be the essential workers.”

Gorman agreed with modellers who said the outbreak would peak early this week with the caveat there was the lag in reporting cases and people getting tested.

He said clearly there were different ways of looking at the numbers following the announcement of 82 cases yesterday – the highest daily number in the outbreak so far – and other other experts suggesting Auckland might need tighter lockdown restrictions, amid fears of an even longer period in alert level four.

“I know that other people see all sorts of dragons there… they might eventually be proven to be right but there’s no evidence to support their particular argument at the moment that something is happening, other than spread within households.

“I think we’ve got to be careful that people declare their biases and their conflicts when they start reporting on these sorts of things because in fact the public’s very vulnerable to information which is either alarmist or depressing and I don’t think you motivate people by fear.

“I think you motivate people by knowledge and information. If I said to you ‘look, there’s no reward for being vaccinated and this is terrible we will all be locked up to Christmas’, you might as well go for a walk and catch up with your friends because if it’s all hopeless, there’s no point. So I actually think we’ve got to look at the data, realistically, but there’s nothing wrong with actually not taking a pessimistic view to it.”

He said he was confident “we can eliminate this outbreak”.

“I am confident we can get the vaccination level up to the sorts of numbers we need… but do I think elimination is a long term strategy? No I don’t. I don’t think it’s possible to maintain an elimination strategy if no one else in the world is. That means you have to rely on a very hard border which is not compatible with our society, and means you have to rely on frequent lockdowns which means you run out of money and goodwill. Lockdowns now, while we are getting vaccinated, are the right thing to do – long term, they are not.”

'The curve is bending but not fast enough'

Earlier, Aucklanders were being warned to manage their expectations ahead of a review of alert level settings on Monday, with one modeller warning another “terrible week” of high daily case numbers is on the cards.

Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy, who had provided advice to the Government on its response said Saturday’s case numbers were “discouraging”.

“We would like to see those numbers start to come down.”

Hendy said he was hoping the case load would just be a “blip” in the plateau.

“We do expect cases to plateau over the next few days. There will always be some noise in the data.”

He said there were shoots of optimism in the fact that new cases were clearly linked to existing ones.

“I wouldn’t say it’s ringfenced exactly yet. While [new cases] are still in existing clusters you can’t say it’s out of control,” he said.

“We’re starting to see the effects of alert level 4, I suspect we are still seeing a lot of household transmission,” Hendy said.

The advice came with a warning however, that if cases did not level off, it might be necessary to tighten up alert level 4 restrictions by shutting some supermarkets and being more selective about which businesses can open.

The two big supermarket chains were unaware of Hendy’s suggestion of “selectively closing supermarkets”.

A Countdown spokeswoman said the idea had not been put to them.

Foodstuffs head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said: “We take our guidance from the Ministry of Health and prefer not to comment on commentators in the media.”

Fellow modeller Rodney Jones was more pessimistic.

“We had a terrible week last week – this looks like next week will not be any better.”

Jones warned that the growth in cases still looked to be “exponential” despite director general of health Ashley Bloomfield saying that it was not.

“It is not right to say it is not exponential. Anything with an R value above one is an exponential rise in cases,” Jones said.

He said asking when cases would plateau was “the wrong question”.

“You can’t ask that question with Delta – Delta behaves differently. It works differently to the wild form. It has shorter waves. You have a day or two where you think you are getting on top of it. Then you get hit by a bad day,” he said.

“The curve is bending but not fast enough.”

As of yesterday, 73 of the 429 cases were essential workers – a concern because many essential workers deal with members of the public in lockdowns.

It was unclear how many of those were infected or infectious since New Zealand went into lockdown on August 18.

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