Covid 19 coronavirus: Ashley Bloomfield says pandemic ‘probably not even halfway through’

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says all New Zealanders need to keep their guard up as we come into winter cold and flu season on the back of the Melbourne Covid-19 outbreak.

He also warned “this pandemic is probably not even halfway through” when asked whether New Zealand would reopen to the world at the start of next year.

As of last night, over 650,000 vaccines doses had been delivered – over 100,000 more than this time last week.

Bloomfield and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall gave an update of the vaccine rollout and said there were six new Covid-19 cases in MIQ- travellers from Brazil, Qatar and Malaysia.

More than 235,000 people had received their second dose – meaning they are now fully vaccinated.

Overall the rollout is 9 per cent ahead of schedule. Further stocks of the Pfizer vaccine had also arrived yesterday and the new advice the vaccine can be stored at typical refrigeration temperature means doses can be more easily moved around the country.

Cities continued to be shutdown overseas, and even an outbreak in Taiwan has continued to grow, highlighting the urgency for vaccines, Bloomfield said.

The Melbourne outbreak, which has grown to 60 community cases, also showed how “tricky” the virus was to deal with, Bloomfield said.

The nature of the current variant of the virus suggested it was more transmissable.

The lockdown, which was set to be lifted at 11.59pm tomorrow local time, has been extended seven days, while flights from Melbourne to New Zealand have been paused until 7.59pm on Friday, June 4.

There were now 60 cases in Victoria. New Zealand’s policy would be assessed with an update tomorrow.

Speaking after news Victoria’s lockdown had been extended for parts of the state, Verrall said a decision over New Zealand’s current travel bubble pause arrangements would still be made on Thursday.

Asked what this could mean for Kiwis stuck over there, Verrall said again their main message all along through the travel bubble has been “flyer beware”.

“People had to be ready for community transmission and lockdown where they are, and that has happened.”

There were no current arrangements for bringing people back but that would be part of tomorrow’s reassessment, she said.

They would also be discussing a form of risk assessment for any New Zealanders who needed to return, and how that could function including any potential MIQ requirements, she said.

Everyone in New Zealand still needed to keep their guard up, especially in light of new variants overseas and winter upcoming, Bloomfield said.

People should be getting tested if they experienced any symptoms.

The best way to keep New Zealand safe into the future is to make sure everyone is vaccinated. To do this by the end of year, the virus needs to be kept out.

If the lockdown in Melbourne is extended anyone stranded and experiencing hardship needed to alert the Government through the SafeTravel website.

When New Zealanders do return home, Verrall said a risk assessment would need to be made, which could include managed isolation for returnees.

Bloomfield said if any travellers were having to return during the lockdown, they would be looking into protocols including pre-departure testing and MIQ.

When asked whether he believed New Zealand could open its borders at the start of next year if all New Zealanders were vaccinated, Bloomfield said he may only be at the end of the beginning of the pandemic.

New community outbreaks and new variants appearing around the world suggested this, Bloomfield said.

Verrall said it won’t feel like flicking a switch back to normal at the end of the vaccination process.

Vaccine rollout in the regions

Each of the 20 DHBs around the country were tailoring their rollouts to the needs of their communities. This included a campaign targeting Māori and Pasifika in Southland, a rural outreach programme in Canterbury, and a marae near Wellington now devoting its activities to vaccinations.

Verrall said she wanted to congratulate Northland DHB on its campaign in particular.

It was encouraging the vaccine rollout was moving ahead of schedule, Bloomfield said.

He also acknowledged the extra effort of staff in Waikato and Canterbury, both dealing with other external issues.

The plan continues to have everyone vaccinated by the end of the year, Bloomfield said.

Updated vaccination advice for pregnant women is expected next week.

The plan for rollout of group 4 is being worked through, and what structure and factors to be considered, Verrall said.

There were currently 260,000 vaccine doses in New Zealand and 49,000 more expected to arrive next week.

If there is a situation the vaccine rollout needed to slow down they were prepared for that, but they were confident Pfizer would come through on its planned supplies, Bloomfield said.

On the other vaccines going through MedSafe approval, Jansen was the closest but they were waiting on more information for the AstraZeneca vaccine, Bloomfield said.

Regarding herd immunity, Verrall said expert groups were looking at these issues.

If a variant was more infectious it would also raise the threshold needed for herd immunity.

Herd immunity won’t mean no cases of Covid-19 in the population – but the possibility of cases extending into a large outbreak is greatly reduced.

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