An additional 82 community cases of Covid-19 were reported in New Zealand on August 28th. Video / NZ Herald
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Additional reporting: Thomas Coughlan
There are 82 new Covid community cases today – and an expert modeller is predicting a tough week ahead for the country, while another says level-four lockdown rules may need to be further tightened.
The 82 number is the highest daily figure in the outbreak so far and brings the total number of cases to 429 – 415 in Auckland and 14 in Wellington.
Twenty-five of the cases are in hospital – 23 are in a stable condition on a ward and two cases are in a stable condition in ICU. Twelve are in Auckland City Hospital, 11 are in Middlemore, one is in North Shore Hospital, and one is in a Wellington regional hospital.
One expert modeller says the curve is bending but not fast enough, and another has raised the prospect of selectively closing some supermarkets as part of a tightening of level-four lockdown rules.
It comes as the Ministry of Health added 11 locations of interest this afternoon. There are 488 locations of interest in total.
New locations include, radiology and module 1 and 2 at the Manukau Super Clinic, the All About Children childcare centre in Manurewa, level four of the Auckland University library, the Vmart Dairy on Wakefield St and several bus routes.
We are going to have to come up with something more – expert
Covid-19 modeller Rodney Jones, who has advised the Government on the pandemic, said that if cases were peaking above 80 a day then it was likely the country would have a “terrible week” for cases next week.
“We had a terrible week last week – this looks like next week will not be any better,” Jones said.
He said it was clear the country was “on a different path” and that case growth was exponential. “When we were at 30 [cases a day] we were on a different path – this is just a continuation of that path.”
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield optimistically said this week that case growth was not exponential. Jones said the latest numbers proved him wrong.
“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.
Jones could not answer when the daily case numbers would start plateauing.
“It’s 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,” Jones said.
He said the Government could look at things like diverting all vaccines to South Auckland to ensure that at least everyone there had one dose.
University of Auckland Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy said the Government may need to look at tightening alert level-4 restrictions if the outbreak did not plateau soon.
This could include shutting some supermarkets and other essential businesses.
“If it doesn’t plateau over the next few days then we may need to be thinking about tightening alert level-4 restrictions. The real worry is if we continue to see spread through businesses that are operating.”
Hendy suggested thinking about “selectively closing supermarkets”.
He suggested rapid testing should be available in New Zealand as it is overseas.
He said Saturday’s case numbers were “discouraging”. “Obviously we would like to see these numbers start to come down.”
However there was some good news. “It does seem like the growth in cases is coming from known clusters – that is a positive.
“While it is still in known clusters, you can’t say it’s out of control,” Hendy said.
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Hendy said an uncontrolled outbreak would see cases double every one or two days, which was not the case with this outbreak.
New daily case numbers have been at the 60 to 70 mark over the last three days, almost 11 days since a nationwide snap level 4 lockdown was announced when a Devonport man with no links to the border tested positive for Covid-19.
After a positive case in Warkworth was found to have worked two shifts in Amberlea Hospital and Rest Home’s dementia ward while unknowingly infectious, all patients in the ward have been tested, the Ministry of Health said today.
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 occupancy around 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 accute 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 yesterday, slightly fewer than Friday 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.
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.
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 give advice 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.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from 11.59pm Tuesday next week everywhere except Auckland and Northland would move to alert level 3.
A decision about our two northernmost regions will be made on Monday, with Aucklanders warned to expect at least two more weeks of level 4 from Tuesday and Northlanders told their extra time under our strictest restrictions to stop community transmission of Covid-19 was likely to be less than Auckland’s.
The decision to keep Northland in level 4 was in part due to a positive case in Auckland’s Warkworth, which is 30km south of the Northland border, Ardern said.
The outbreak has been traced to a New South Wales returnee who tested positive to Covid-19 while in central Auckland’s Crowne Plaza MIQ on August 7.
Six epidemiologically linked sub-clusters have been identified within the outbreak, the largest being connected to an August 15 service at the Assembly of God Church in Māngere. Yesterday, 19 people with Covid-19 were in stable conditions in Auckland hospitals, including one in ICU.
Fourteen cases – all linked to the Auckland outbreak – have been identified in Wellington, but community transmission appears to have been prevented in the Capital, with recent cases linked to household contacts.
There were no new Covid samples in any of the country’s 108 wastewater sites yesterday.
The most recent analysis showed there continued to be positive results in Warkworth – where a rest home worker has tested positive – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as previously reported.
The Christchurch wastewater is thought to be linked to virus shedding from positive cases in the city’s MIQ, but further wastewater testing was underway from a range of sites in the city.
No community cases of Covid-19 have been detected outside Auckland and Wellington, but a cautious approach is being taken because almost 30,000 contacts of positive cases are not only in Auckland but spread around the country, including the South Island.
Three-quarters of contacts have been tested, with most others not yet due a test.
This morning, locations of interest added included several sections of the AUT City Campus, including levels of the library, the student lounge and other public places.
All are from Tuesday August 17, the day before level 4 lockdown began.
Nine updates were also made last night, spanning from August 11 to August 17, including six bus routes, Manakau Super Clinic and a uniform shop in Wairau junction.
Police to intensify patrols
The country will be split in two come Wednesday, and a border south of Auckland will be tightly controlled by police to contain the Delta outbreak.
Only essential workers and those with exemptions will be allowed through roadblocks – a decision that’s been described as a positive as long as there are tight controls are in place and the “monumental mess” of prior lockdowns is addressed well in advance.
Ardern yesterday announced all of the country south of Auckland would move down to alert level 3 from 11.59pm on Tuesday.
A firm decision would be made for Auckland and Northland on Monday, but Ardern said it was likely those regions would see another week at level 4, and even two more for Auckland.
That means police will be setting up checkpoints along Auckland’s southern border to restrict travel in and out of Auckland for all but essential workers and those with special exemptions granted by MBIE.
Along with manning checkpoints, police have warned they will be stopping and questioning more people about their reason for being on the road from today.
University of Otago public health expert Professor Nick Wilson said the regional approach was a good idea, as long as there was tight border control around Auckland.
“Last time it was a bit hopeless. There were reports of some places 90 per cent of people being let through, it was extremely loose.
“Now, though, there are more tools, with potential to restrict movement to vaccinated essential workers and instigate regular testing, including saliva testing.
“If we can tightly control the internal borders we could see Auckland more rapidly moving out of lockdown.”
Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said the roadblocks south of Auckland had been “a monumental mess” during the previous lockdown in August.
During that lockdown there were massive queues of vehicles as police checked whether there was a legitimate reason for travel. Leggett said that was a health and safety issue for freight drivers, an animal welfare issue, and had delayed deliveries of food and essential medicines.
“It is critical that freight can move. Plans should have been developed prior to them being needed and that has not happened. So we are concerned about the first 24 to 48 hours [of the alert level changes] particularly.”
He said he hoped that making it clear only essential workers and freight would be able to cross was a good thing, and hoped that would keep others off the roads.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said they were ready to establish region-specific boundaries to enforce any alert level changes.
Police will be stepping up visibility and intensifying patrols under level-four lockdown this weekend – ahead of next week’s change of alert levels.
“People can expect that police will intensify our enforcement of the level 4 restrictions, and more people will be stopped and questioned about their reason for moving away from home,” said Coster.
“With the alert level remaining the same for the weekend, we ask New Zealanders to continue to ensure their movement away home is for essential purposes only,” said Coster.
Most Kiwis had been complying with level 4 rules – but police wanted to deter non-essential travel on roads.
“The vast majority of New Zealanders have demonstrated an amazing level of compliance, and we need to ensure their hard work and sacrifice is not compromised by a few who deliberately break the rules.”
“We are already prepared for an alert level change and our planning includes a more stringent approach to non-essential movement in the current Level 4,” said Coster.
“Our operational planning is well-advanced and we are ready to move quickly to establish region-specific boundaries to enforce any alert level changes.”
The official locations for these will be publicised once a Health Order has been received.