Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Northland into level 3, warning cases could spiral out of control if Auckland restrictions ease

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* Derek Cheng: Level 3 in Northland until Xmas? Why that is a very real possibility
* Let’s get vaccinated on the Sky Tower: Wiles’ texts to Bloomfield revealed
* Covid and the housing market: is a price fall coming?

Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has appeared on national television this morning to allege the woman at the centre of Northland’s snap move to level 3 is connected to the Mongrel Mob.

The claims, along with other allegations about the woman, have been widely circulated on social media but have not been confirmed by officials or the Government. Peters told Newshub Nation he was absolutely certain of his sources.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a hastily arranged press conference last night that he had no information to confirm the woman was connected to a gang.

But Peters said this morning the woman was travelling with a Mongrel Mob member and that he brought her from the Bay of Plenty to Northland via Auckland.

Peters told Newshub Nation that health authorities and the PM knew who the person travelled with days ago.

She visited Whangārei and then fled to a marae further north, Peters said. When police went to arrest her at the marae, she had already left, he said.

Peters said he was absolutely certain of his sources.

He said health teams knew this days ago and he thought it shocking that they were not sharing the information with the public. People had a right to know, he said.

Peters said the situation in the north was predictable given the nature of essential travel exemptions given out.

The Herald has been attempting to confirm the information before Peters’ appearance on television.

Northland’s level change overnight came after it was confirmed the woman used false information to obtain travel documents and spent several days in the region. She is now in MIQ in Auckland, but a female travelling companion has yet to be located.

The woman has not been cooperative and despite spending five days in the region – from last Saturday to Wednesday this week – only two locations of interest have so far been released. They are both petrol stations in Whāngārei – Z Kensington and BP Connect Wylies Woodhill.

The woman is believed to have travelled around the region, including Whangārei, Kamo, Paihia and Kawakawa, before returning to Auckland.

Hipkins revealed at 6.30pm yesterday that Northland would be moving into level 3 from 11.59pm.

He said the woman was using a document which might have been based on false information. She had travelled widely through Northland.

By the time the document was rescinded, the person had already crossed the Auckland/Northland region border.

Hipkins told the press conference there was no information at that stage to say whether the case was involved with a gang, or connected to a gang.

A reporter at the hastily arranged press conference said they had been told the woman is a sex worker but Hipkins said he could not confirm that – he had not been briefed that was the case.

Hipkins said the woman had not been cooperating with contact tracers.

He said it was “very disappointing”.

Hipkins said it had been difficult to locate the woman following a first weak positive test result, and it took police involvement to find the person again.

The document had permitted the travel under the “social services category”.

Hipkins said he did not know why the woman was being uncooperative or how many contacts might be connected to the case.

The second woman has now been identified but remains at large.

Warning over Auckland rules

As Northland moved into snap level 3 status overnight, public health experts warned against any move to further loosen restrictions in Auckland next week, for fear of cases spiralling “out of control”.

Cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss any potential changes in Covid-19 levels.

Ministers early last evening held an emergency meeting where they placed Northland into level 3 until midnight Tuesday. That decision, plus whether Auckland restrictions could be loosened, will be debated on Monday.

But Covid-19 modeller Michael Plank – speaking after 44 new cases were confirmed, including 41 in Auckland and three in the Waikato – warned against any thought of easing up on Auckland.

“It does already look like cases are trending upwards, so I think relaxing further at this stage would be a real risk that you’d see cases spiral out of control.”

He believes Waikato, however, could potentially move to level 2.5 if case numbers remain low over the weekend, and the finer case details point to the outbreak being well contained.

Parts of Waikato are in alert level 3 until Monday night while Auckland is currently at step 1 of easing level 3.

This morning Far North District Mayor John Carter said the community was feeling hugely disappointed, frustrated and angry.

Northlanders have been working hard to keep the virus at bay and then an irresponsible person brought it into the community.

“It’s frustrating as hell,” he said.

Carter said the irresponsible behaviour put many whanau at risk, even those who are vaccinated.

“We’ve worked hard and now some bloody idiot has come and buggered it up for all of us,” he said.

Earlier Whāngārei mayor Sheryl Mai said another change in alert level was “unacceptable” and that it would hurt businesses and holidaymakers that had flown from other parts of New Zealand during the school holidays.

And Mai told RNZ she was “actually quite grumpy”.

“We’ve got a person who really has done everything that they should not do. And they’ve impacted all of Northland as a result.

“I was giving the person the benefit of the doubt earlier today. Now I’m just ropeable.”

On Newshub Nation, Peters also criticised the slow Maori vaccination rates along with the overall slow vaccine rollout.

Peters said the rollout of saliva testing had not just been slow, but inexplicably slow.

The current Auckland lockdown was avoidable and was putting thousands of businesses at risk, he said.

He said the government was guilty of double talk, u-turns and spin.

Hipkins said the fact vaccination rates in Northland were low was also a factor in the decision to raise the alert level.

About 70 per cent of Northland’s eligible population have had one dose, while 48 per cent have had two doses. Those rates are lower for Maori: 52 per cent for one dose and 32 per cent fully vaccinated.

“Widespread testing and wastewater testing will take place over the weekend,” Hipkins said.

“Every Northlander needs to stay home, get tested as soon as possible if they have symptoms, and continue to check the Ministry of Health website for updated locations of interest. And of course, vaccination centres continue to be open in alert level 3.

“We know many people in Northland live rurally, but the advice is the same for everyone – get vaccinated, get tested, and follow the alert level 3 requirements.

“As we have seen in Waikato the virus is finding its way into rural areas and finding unvaccinated people. Distance is no barrier. It’s never been more urgent to get vaccinated and we urge everyone to act now.”

Plans to erect a checkpoint north of Whangārei are being discussed following the revelation a Covid-positive women travelled throughout the region recently.

Late yesterday, Tai Tokerau Border Control spokesman Hone Harawira confirmed the group had been working with Northland police to stand up a checkpoint at Waiomio – about 30 minutes north of Whangārei before Kawakawa, known as the entrance to the Far North.

Group convener Nyze Manuel said motorists will be asked to turn around, should the checkpoint be instated.

“Now that the decision has been made that Northland will go back to [alert] level 3, we will be asking people not to travel north from Whangārei until we get the all clear from authorities, and we’re also talking to police about running mobile patrols to counter people trying to slip the border through the back roads.”

44 new cases – 41 in Auckland

Earlier on Friday, health officials reported 44 new community cases.

This is higher than recent days but director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said daily fluctuations were expected.

Twelve of the 44 cases were unlinked and investigations into them were ongoing. There were currently six active subclusters of the outbreak, she said.

Not included in the 44 is an Auckland police officer who tested positive after attending a welfare callout on Tuesday. The officer was one of four who attended to a woman at Miro Rd before taking her to Auckland Hospital for a mental health assessment.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Michael Baker said the government’s decision last Monday to loosen restrictions in Auckland was confusing, and it was no longer clear whether New Zealand had abandoned elimination in favour of a suppression strategy.

“This is the worst week since the pandemic began, in terms of lack of clarity of strategy, and coherence of what we’re doing.”

He said the alert level system worked well and needed an upgrade, but instead the government presented a new approach for Auckland.

“Confusingly they went step 1, 2, 3, up the steps, whereas the alert level system we got used to moving down the scale.”

A separate decision was made for school reopening on October 18, and the rest of country was still on alert levels, he said.

Plank said it was tempting to loosen restrictions so retail and hospitality could operate, but it ran the risk of a growing outbreak with deaths and hospitalisations, which would translate into long-term economic impacts.

The best economic response remained a strong health response, he said, especially in the face of uncertainty.

“We are moving into a very different and uncertain phase of the pandemic, that looks very different from anything we’ve experienced so far.”

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