Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Auckland prepares for long lockdown as cases rise

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A worker at a managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid.

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, reports RNZ.

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.

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.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned on Friday that Aucklanders are likely to spend at least another fortnight living under alert level 4 restrictions, saying she needed “to see a sustained reduction in cases before moving alert levels”.

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Just how long will be revealed when Ardern fronts her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday afternoon. What Aucklanders do know is that they will not be joining the rest of the country in level 3 when it moves down the alert levels on Tuesday night.

Ardern is also readying plans to maintain the cracking pace of the country’s vaccine rollout, which has jabbed about 90,000 people a day the past two days.

The Government is concerned that supplies of the vaccine might not be able to satisfy demand, and is readying plans to import more vaccines.

The Herald revealed this morning this could included changing vaccination schedules or using non-Pfizer jabs.

Experts suggest that signs point towards an extended lockdown in Auckland, and possibly harsher alert level restrictions if daily case numbers do not start plateauing or tracking downwards.

The country clocked 82 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, all of them in Auckland.

The ministry has also confirmed that 55 per cent of Covid cases who have tested positive since the lockdown were infectious in the community, increasing the likelihood the virus has spread further.

However most of those exposure events were prior to alert level 4 restrictions being imposed.

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.

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.”

Jones said the Government should not make the mistake other countries had made by focusing on whether transmission was only occurring within households .

“The point is Delta is ferocious and it represents another challenge. We are going to have to come up with something more.”

Warkworth rest-home case

After a positive case in Warkworth was found to have worked two shifts in Amberlea Hospital and Rest Home’sdementia ward while unknowingly infectious, all patients in the ward have been tested, the Ministry of Health said on Saturday.

Of the 13 swabs taken, 12 have returned negative results, and the remaining one test is pending and expected today.

The ministry says health system capacity is good across the country, with hospital occupancyaround 75 per cent, while ICU occupancy is around 58 per cent, as of yesterday.

“Hospitals across the country are safely assessing and treating anyone needing acute hospital care. It is important that anyone who needs care, for any reason, seeks it – do not delay.”

There is also one extra case in managed isolation, the Ministry of Health says. The new MIQ case is in Christchurch and tested positive on their routine day 0 test. There are no details on where they travelled from yet.

The total number of confirmed New Zealand cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020 is 3023.

Vaccination centre error

The Ministry of Health says that an error at a vaccination centre in the Canterbury DHB area earlier this month means 13 people may have received a lower dose of the vaccine than intended.

The 13 patients are understood to have been given a saline solution.

“No patient harm would have resulted from this occurrence, but we acknowledge this would be concerning for the people involved,” said the ministry.

“Twelve of the group have been contacted and are booked in for another dose of the vaccine. A range of methods is being used to contact the remaining person. They are also booked in to receive their second dose.”

More than 89,000 vaccines were given on Friday, slightly fewer than Thursday when more than 90,000 were given.

More than 3.2 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given in New Zealand so far. Of these, 2.1 million are first doses and more than 1.1 million are second doses.

More than 188,776 Māori have received their first vaccination, with more than 100,000 having also received their second jab. More than 120,000 first doses have also been administered to Pasifika peoples – with more than 69,000 having also had their second dose.

Seven clusters

There are now seven sub-clusters epidemiologically connected to the outbreak. The two largest clusters are the Birkdale Social Network cluster associated with Case A (64 confirmed cases), and the Māngere church cluster (197 confirmed cases).

Of the total community cases, 376 have been clearly epidemiologically-linked to another case or sub-cluster. Links are yet to be fully established for 53.

All of the cases have or are being transferred safely to a quarantine facility, under strict infection prevention and control procedures, including the use of full PPE, the ministry said.

Of these 82 new cases, 62 are Pacific peoples, five are Asian, four are European, two are Māori, one is Middle Eastern/Latin American/African, and the ethnicity of eight is unknown.

Wastewater testing

There are no new unexpected detections to report in wastewater testing.

“Positive results have been previously reported from Warkworth, Auckland, Wellington at the Moa Point site, and Christchurch, which was consistent with virus shedding from those cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities there,” said the ministry.

“Samples collected from Waimakariri at Rangiora and Kaiapoi on Tuesday and Thursday were negative.”

Further samples from a range of sites in Christchurch were being analysed.

“Samples from 111 locations have now either been analysed or are currently in the laboratory being analysed.

“There are 88 locations in the North Island and 33 locations in South Island. These cover an estimated 3.8 million people, and over 90 per cent of the New Zealand population connected to reticulated wastewater systems.”

Contact tracing and testing sites

On contact tracing, the ministry said as of 9am today, 31,757 individual contacts had been identified.

Eighty-one per cent of those contacts have been tested, most others are not yet due for a test.

Yesterday, 36,418 Covid-19 tests were processed across New Zealand, including 14,500 taken in Auckland – 9000 at community testing centres and 5500 at GP and urgent care clinics.

Testing centres were jam packed with hours-long delays in the early days of level 4, but testing centres in Auckland were now reporting little or no wait times for testing.

However, several Auckland testing centres say some people are seeking their day 12 test early, the ministry said. “It is vital that everyone gets tested on the day they are asked to be tested on.”

There are 27 community testing centres available across Auckland today – six regular community testing centres and 16 pop-up testing centres, including three new pop-up sites opening today at Ranui, Parakai and Alfriston.

There are also five invitation-only sites open for high-risk groups and to prioritise essential health care workers.

The advice is still to get tested – wherever you are in the country – if you were at a location of interest at the specified times, or have cold and flu symptoms.

Healthline -0800 358 5453 – can giveadvice on testing.

“By calling Healthline, people who have been at locations of interest at relevant times are logged into the contact tracing system. This means their swab can be tracked and processed faster by the laboratories.”

ESR has also now run whole genome sequencing on samples taken from around 300 community cases, and that showed all are genomically linked to the current outbreak.

The Covid Tracer app now has 3,095,642 registered users and there were 732,563 scans in the 24 hours to midday yesterday.

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