There are 21 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, bringing the total number of people infected in the outbreak to 72. One million New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated.
There are 21 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, bringing the total number of people infected in the outbreak to 72.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins wouldn’t reveal when Kiwis could expect to come out of alert level 4, though suggested different restrictions could be applied to different regions. Cabinet is due to meet tomorrow to decide on alert levels.
“We will give people plenty of notice,” Hipkins said at today’s 1pm press conference.
“There’s still more information to gather.”
The Government has also decided to make Covid QR code scanning or record keeping at businesses mandatory.
One new Wellington case, rest in Auckland
One new case is in Wellington, the other cases are all in Auckland, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.
Five people are in hospital due to Covid-19 but none are in ICU.
Sixty-one of the cases in the outbreak are confirmed as part of the same cluster, with the other 11 under investigation but with likely links.
Bloomfield said some of the 11 cases not formally linked to the cluster were University of Auckland students.
ESR is running whole-genome sequencing, and those matched to the cluster are all “largely identical”, he said.
Bloomfield said “just a few, less than 10” people with Covid had opted to go into MIQ instead of self-isolating at home.
The Holiday Inn near the Auckland Airport was the facility repurposed for people needing to isolate who couldn’t do so at home.
Bloomfield said anyone self-isolating should do so within their bubble.
That meant staying in their bedroom and avoiding other household members, he said, but those household members needed to stay isolated until their loved one had returned a day 5 negative test.
On the source of the outbreak, Bloomfield said the most likely source was the person back from New South Wales who stayed in the Crowne Plaza. It wasn’t known how the virus spread from that person into the community.
There are 3 cases in MIQ to report, Bloomfield said.
One came from Singapore, one from Malaysia and the other’s travel history is to be confirmed.
One previously reported Covid case has now recovered. The total number of active cases being managed in New Zealand, whether in MIQ or the community, is currently 116.
Cases linked to Auckland church service
Bloomfield said several of the new cases are linked to a service at the Samoan Assembly of God church in Māngere last Sunday. This was emerging as a cluster within the outbreak, he said.
People who attended are being asked to call Healthline for advice on testing.
Bloomfield said the service was one of a number of large gatherings including schools. It was a priority for contact tracers.
Pacific community members were very good at helping drive up test numbers, he said, and there were a number of cases including the three cases in Wellington who had been at the church service.
New locations of interest
The Samoan Assembly of God Church in Māngere is now a location of interest.
Anyone there between 9am and 3pm on Sunday August 15 is asked to isolate at home for 14 days and seek Covid tests on day 5 and day 12.
Both Wellington and Auckland airport domestic terminals are now locations of interest.
University of Auckland’s Engineering Building City Campus is also a location of interest.
From today, locations of interest will be updated automatically on a two-hourly basis. Any significant or urgent locations of interest will be published as required.
As of 9am, 8667 individual contacts have been identified – the majority being close contacts, the ministry said. The number will increase throughout the day, as records are fully processed.
“Of these contacts, 4124 have been contacted and are self-isolating, and a third have had a test.
“Work is underway to contact the remaining 4500 contacts. Most of these contacts were identified yesterday as a result of case investigations into settings with high numbers of people involved (eg, schools),” health officials say.
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Officials will also be working on how to ensure those people all get tested.
Scanning, record-keeping mandatory at businesses
Hipkins said the Government has now decided that record-keeping like scanning with the Covid tracer app or manually signing in will be mandatory for most events or businesses at all alert levels
This will enable fast contact tracing.
“Speed means a lot,” Hipkins said.
It will be mandatory to make a record of where you have been, he said, including cafes, restaurants, bars, concerns, aged care, libraries, night clubs and many more.
Places where people are already required to sign in, like gyms and some workplaces, won’t need to change what they do.
“The obligation will be on the person responsible for the place or the gathering.”
Hipkins said mandatory QR code scanning, was going to be announced last Wednesday but that was taken over by the lockdown.
The Government considered privacy and other considerations, Hipkins said. He clarified the mandatory part was to keep a record, and one way to do that was to use the App
“We want to give businesses a bit of time to adjust…we do acknowledge it is an extra imposition on business, but a lot less than higher alert levels.”
He said hospitality and businesses were largely supportive.
Penalties for non-compliance were being reviewed, Hipkins said, but any move would need legislative change.
Hipkins said Apple and Google were okay with a mandatory record-keeping requirement, but wouldn’t support making use of the Covid tracer app compulsory.
He hadn’t considered a law change to make sure information collected wasn’t used for any other purpose. However, he reiterated such information would never be used for other reasons, including in cases of people overstaying their immigration visas, for example.
Hipkins said the policy had been worked on for some time.
“There are some difficult legal issues that we have been working through.”
This included commercial arrangements with the Covid tracer app.
Wastewater test results
ESR is today reporting wastewater detections in Auckland and Wellington, the Ministry of Health says in a statement.
“There were no unexpected detections anywhere else in the country – based on samples collected on Friday and Saturday,” the statement said.
“Covid-19 was detected in wastewater taken from a sample from Moa Point in Wellington again yesterday. Samples taken from other sites in Wellington at Porirua, Seaview and Karori were negative.
“There continues to be Covid-19 detected in wastewater in the Auckland region based on samples which were taken on Friday. This includes the eastern and western catchments for the city. The virus was not detected on the North Shore – from either Rosedale and Albany – for the first time this week.
“ESR continues to test wastewater at 41 sites across the country, covering 3.7 million New Zealanders. Of the 41 current sites, 13 are in Auckland and four are in Wellington.
1 million Kiwis have Covid jab
Hipkins started with “good news”, saying yesterday a new record for a weekend day of vaccination was set, and more than 1 million people had now had a jab.
Yesterday 52,106 doses of the Covid jab were delivered. 102,000 new bookings for a jab were made.
Seventy-three per cent of people aged over 40 had either had at least one dose or were booked to get one.
“You do still need to have a booking to go through a drive-through vaccination centre…go on bookmyvaccine.nz to see the availability,” he said.
Hipkins said more doses of the Pfizer vaccine had arrived yesterday, allowing vaccinations to scale-up with no worries about supply.
On vaccination, Bloomfield said the minimum wait time after vaccination has been reduced to 15 minutes, from 20 minutes, based on health advice. Bloomfield was one of the first to benefit from that change this morning.
Bloomfield said some people were getting vaccinated while waiting or on the way back from a test or when they were meant to be in isolation as a contact. This was obviously important to avoid.
Hipkins said there were weekly deliveries of vaccines, with about 750,000 in the freezer or distribution. That means there’s no risk of running out before the next shipment.
“We have got a bit of a buffer.”
Hipkins said the Govt was “very mindful” of the ability for Covid to spread in prisons, but he couldn’t give vaccination rates for inmates.
Bloomfield said when he was being vaccinated this morning the team were telling him about a good event designed to help homeless people vaccinated, and he knew other DHBs were doing similar work.
Yesterday more than 38,000 tests were processed.
That gave increasing confidence about where the boundaries of the outbreak were, Bloomfield said.
A new testing centre was running at the Pukekohe Showgrounds.
There was unprecedented demand for tests, so there may be delays, Bloomfield said.
There are 15 community testing centres available across Auckland this afternoon, including a new site at Pukekohe opening at 2pm, the ministry says.
“There are also four testing centres which are invitation-only for close contacts of high risk groups.
“In Wellington, around 4033 tests were processed yesterday with 11 community testing centres operational over the weekend.”
“It is so important that anyone awaiting a test result or who is a close contact should be self-isolating and not leaving the house for any reason, until they receive a negative test result or until they’re cleared by public health staff,” the ministry said.
“This also extends to other trips out. Please don’t go the pharmacy, supermarket or make any other stops in public while waiting for your test result. If you find yourself in this situation, arrange for someone in your bubble or another friend or relative to pick up supplies.”
Bloomfield said there were “excellent” PPE stocks, available to all health providers including primary care, and for N-95 masks.
In-country stocks included 18m N-95 masks, 18m isolation gowns and 280m gloves, he said.
830 new cases in NSW
Across the Tasman, meanwhile, NSW has today recorded 830 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, news.com reports.
There were also three new deaths – a man in his 60s, a man in his 70s, and a woman in her 80s, Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced today.
It brings the death toll in this current outbreak to 71.
There are 550 patients in NSW hospitals with Covid-19 and almost 100 are in intensive care.
Hipkins said people should look to Australia to show how people flouting the rules would drive ongoing transmission, and result in extended lockdowns.
“The last thing we want to see is post-lockdown transmission.”
Childcare for essential workers
Hipkins said childcare arrangements for essential workers who needed them would be put back in place under this level 4 lockdown.
“Each carer involved in the scheme will be limited to providing care for only one family…there is limited capacity.”
The Government has also agreed to put in an emergency payment team for relief teachers and support staff who aren’t eligible for the wage subsidy’
On schooling, Hipkins said the Government was buying more devices and materials to send out to kids who need them.
Online resources for students, teachers and parents was available, Hipkins said.
Exercising at level 4
Hipkins said people could drive somewhere to exercise if they needed to.
“But it should be to the nearest place that you can go.”
Hipkins acknowledged that when exercising sometimes wearing a mask wasn’t an option, like going for a run. Such people should make sure not to get near others.
He was asked about coffees being served by petrol stations. “Service stations are an essential service.”
Yesterday there were 21 new cases of Covid-19 in the community – bringing the total number of people infected in the latest outbreak and confirmed by officials to 51.
And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not think the outbreak had hit its peak.
Because Auckland is at the centre of the outbreak with 45 cases (the rest are in Wellington), it was “very likely” restrictions would remain beyond Tuesday, Ardern said.
Cabinet is meeting tomorrow to make a decision on the country’s alert level 4 lockdown restrictions.
Ardern said she expected cases to rise into early next week before they start to drop.
The number of locations of interest has risen to 165, with 197 visits. They now include three central North island towns – Bulls, Waiouru and Tokoroa – likely visited by people travelling from Auckland to Wellington by car before the lockdown on Monday.
On Friday, New Zealand’s alert level 4 lockdown was extended nationwide until 11.59pm Tuesday after confirmation the Covid-19 outbreak had spread to Wellington.
Ardern said extending the lockdown gave officials more time to assess the situation and be in a better position to make decisions going forward.
No part of the country could come out of alert level 4 early, Ardern said.
“It’s just not safe.”
“We’ve got to be vigilant … we are not in a position to let anyone in the country to leave level 4,” she said.
It was revealed on Friday there were three cases of Covid-19 in Wellington who recently travelled to Auckland and visited a location of interest there.
Two cases are in the suburb of Miramar, in the same household, and one in Johnsonville.
Two of the cases were in a household and travelled back by car. The third person flew back but flight details were yet to be released.
Bloomfield said the Wellington cases were across two households, and locations of interest included four cafes and restaurants, one pharmacy, and one medical centre.
There were also four petrol stations relating to the pair who drove from Auckland to Welington.
Why Michael Baker is optimistic: ‘I am sure we will beat this’
Professor Michael Baker says the Delta outbreak should peak this coming week and despite a large number of exposure events, “I am sure we will beat this”.
Baker spoke to Francesca Rudkin on Newstalk ZB this morning and said there were a huge number of exposure events, and some could end up being “superspreaders”, with large numbers of people infected.
“Given the huge number of exposure settings and that some of these were quite high-risk indoor environments, we are obviously expecting quite a few more cases,” Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said.
“The good news is that these infected cases were only in the community for a short period of time, because we do know when the virus first arrived in New Zealand … that really is good news because it limits how many times the virus will go through its reproduction cycle, and we know that each case on average may infect five or six others, but it only had seven to 10 days in the community to go through those cycles. So it won’t be a huge outbreak, fortunately.”
The Delta variant was much more infectious but had a shorter incubation period, Baker said – around two, three or four days. That meant new cases should come through more quickly.
“We should see it peak very soon, actually – just this week.”
While it could be unsettling to see more and more cases confirmed each day, Baker said New Zealanders should take heart in the fact Delta community outbreaks had been contained, including South Australia and Queensland.
The New Zealand Government had done the critical thing and imposed a strict lockdown soon after the first case was detected, he said.
“I am sure we will beat this.”
An important factor in how quickly the outbreak could be contained would be how many people were infected after people with the virus attended indoor events like church services.
“I know when I looked at that growing list of places of interest … my heart sank, because it included just about every high-risk indoor event you can think of. But, again, it just comes down to whether there was an infectious person at one of those events or not.”