New Zealand will stay in lockdown until 11.59pm on Tuesday – and Auckland will likely remain at level-4 for a fortnight after that, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
The Government is taking a cautious approach and will extend the nationwide lockdown – due to expire at 11.59pm tonight – for another four days.
The additional time gives health experts a full 14-day cycle of data and information since the country went into lockdown on Tuesday night last week.
All going to plan, all of the country – except Auckland and Northland – would then drop to level 3 at 11.59pm next Tuesday, August 31.
Auckland will likely be at level-four for another two weeks after that, Ardern said.
Friday saw a new record number of daily cases declared, with 70 recorded on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in this outbreak to 347. Nineteen people are in hospital in Auckland.
The decision to keep Northland in level four has been made, partly due to a positive case in Warkworth, Ardern said.
When Auckland settings are confirmed on Monday, an update for Northland will be provided.
Asked whether Northland would see more resources for testing, Ardern said it was unlikely Northland would be kept in the same alert level as Auckland for a long time. She said testing remained available in the region as it always had.
Ardern, who announced the alert level plans with Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, said caution is still required as we reach the peak of case numbers.
Case numbers could be expected to increase as more household contacts were infected, she said.
“I’m also told that compliance [with lockdown rules] is really high…the question now is how long everyone stays [in lockdown],” she said.
The three reasons keeping the rest of the country in level four for a few more days are because it will provide a full two-week cycle, there are cases in Wellington and the positive wastewater result in Christchurch.
More refined wastewater tests are underway.
Asked whether there had been any transmission between bubbles, Ardern wasn’t aware of any.
There has been some transmission at some essential workplaces but not public-facing, despite infection prevention controls.
Police to monitor borders
No regional travel is allowed through level 4 regions, except those who need to travel for work or someone with an exemption.
Police will enforce boundaries and check on exemptions when south of Auckland moves to level 3. The same boundary used in February will be used again.
MBIE will be open for applications from Sunday for people who need exemptions to cross boundaries for work.
What level 3 means
Level three allows us to give businesses and others more freedoms but contact with others needs to remain limited, she said.
“We want you to limit contact as much as possible,” Ardern said.
She said takeaways can only be operated through contactless methods.
“We want you to limit contact as much as possible.”
Public venues remain closed. Groups of 10 for weddings, funerals and tangi are allowed.
Masks are still mandatory on all public transport and it is encouraged to wear one in public spaces as you can.
PM says lockdown is working
“What I would say to Auckland and all of New Zealand is what you are doing is working”, Ardern said.
“Already we are seeing those signs of what a difference lockdown is working.”
Bloomfield said we won’t necessarily need to see zero cases in order to consider moving Auckland down a level.
“We feel like we need to give as much clarity around our thinking as we can,” Ardern said, but she noted more information around alert levels would be provided on Monday.
Ardern said Auckland may have moved to level three earlier had it not been for the Delta variant which meant the Government was being more cautious and considered alert level 4 as the best option right now.
“[Alert level] 4 is the better place to be.”
“Our focus in the here and now is elimination,” Ardern said.
Looking to 2022, Ardern said there were issues with contact tracing for the Delta variant that will be looked at for possible improvements.
It didn’t change the fact that the number one strategy was elimination and vaccination, she said.
More MIQ space
Ardern said there are 274 rooms designated for quarantine across the country.
She said family members are giving each other Covid when they are asymptomatic.
Extra MIQ facilities have needed to be brought on for contacts of Covid cases in Auckland.
Bloomfield said it didn’t present any further risk for people to be isolating from home.
However, he said bigger families were prioritised to be moved to other facilities as it was harder for them to isolate in the same house.
Positive worker at Warkworth rest home
Asked about the rest home positive case in Warkworth, Ardern said the worker was fully vaccinated and those facilities were prioritised for testing.
The staff member at the Amberlea Home and Hospital Care Facility in Warkworth worked two shifts while infectious in the facility’s dementia ward.
However, that staff member is fully vaccinated and adhered to strict Infection, Prevention and Control protocol, including wearing face coverings and other PPE.
Bloomfield said the relevant DHB went into the rest home three times to conduct vaccinations.
She said this case was the reason that workforce was prioristised for the jab.
Bloomfield said there were mechanisms, including primary care, through which new rest home residents were quickly vaccinated.
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Experts urged caution
Most experts believe the latest outbreak could drag on for some time.
Experts today urged few more days in lockdown across the country as part of a “cautious approach” to containing the Delta outbreak.
And the Government’s top adviser says while “I’d love to say Santa Claus exists” there was no easy way to stamp out Delta and there were still tough times ahead.
Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said there was still a risk the virus could be incubating outside Auckland and Wellington.
Level 3 was good at containing spread, but not at eliminating the virus, Baker said.
Bar any developments, a “cautious” approach could see the South Island enter level 3 from Tuesday, meaning it had been through a full 14-incubation period since the lockdown began.
The fact they were all contained in their bubbles and there had been no spread was reassuring, Baker said.
Eminent epidemiologist Sir David Skegg says he is cautiously optimistic New Zealand will get out of this outbreak – but it all depended on the community’s ongoing response.
He said on current progress, he expected the country to emerge from lockdown in a few weeks.
But Skegg, the Government’s adviser on elimination, told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that even with vaccination levels up, public health measures would still need to be maintained with Delta.
“Unfortunately there’s no easy way out of. I’d love to say Santa Claus exists but unfortunately whatever we do in New Zealand we are going to have some tough times ahead.”
Skegg maintained elimination remained the best option for New Zealand. “No one would have wished to have this outbreak but the good thing is that it is making people realise we need to get vaccinated,” he said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will get out of this but Delta is definitely a lot more infectious, it’s a lot more difficult to stamp out and it really all depends on us,” said Skegg.
“If we observe the lockdown better than Melbourne and Sydney have done then, of course, we will get rid of this in the next few weeks … I’m expecting this to happen.”
There are some shoots of hope.
Bloomfield has said the numbers this week show the growth in cases is not exponential.
That means while the number of new cases is increasing each day, cases are not exploding.
“The good thing about this is while this is a steady growth, it is not exponential,” Bloomfield said, updating case numbers this week.
“We do know that our actions to slow and spread the virus will begin to see a slowing of those numbers increasing. And, indeed, the fact that the rate of increase is not exponential is explicitly because we have alert level 4 in place,” he said.
However the enormous number of contacts in this outbreak is testing the small army of contract tracers, which is soon expected to number 1200.
As of this morning of the 629 “close plus” contacts, 85 per cent had been contacted, 63 per cent have had results – 15.6 per cent tested positive.
Of the 24,541 close contacts, 68 per cent have been contacted, 75 per cent have results and just 0.3 per cent have tested positive.
And of the 1,235 casual contacts, 47 per cent had been contacted, 69 per cent have had results, none of which were positive.
The latest outbreak has so far claimed no fatalities. Nineteen of the current community cases are in a stable condition in hospital; one of the cases is in a stable condition in ICU. Of those in hospital, two are in North Shore Hospital, eight are in Middlemore Hospital, and nine are in Auckland City Hospital.
There are also signs of optimism with the nation’s vaccine rollout, which has broken multiple records this week – although New Zealand’s rate of vaccination remains well behind the rest of the world.
There were 90,757 jabs administered yesterday.
Of these, 65,541 were first doses and 25,216 were second doses making it the biggest daily total to date.
More than 3.11 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given so far and of those, 2 million were first doses and more than 1.1 million were second doses.
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