August 29 2021
There are 83 Covid community cases today, taking the total cases in the outbreak to 511. The number is similar to the total reported yesterday – and officials and experts will be hoping this signals that the country’s Delta outbreak might be at a plateau.
A further 83 cases have emerged in New Zealand’s Delta outbreak – the highest daily tally to date – and an expert says it looks like the numbers have reached a plateau.
There are now 511 cases overall – 496 in Auckland and 15 in Wellington, with 34 people in hospital including two in ICU. All patients are in a stable condition.
The tally of 83 new cases is just one more than Saturday’s total of 82.
Nevertheless, both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield urged more caution today, saying Delta was far more ruthless and infectious than the previous variant and people needed to stay vigilant.
“Everyone needs to act and behave as if they have Covid,” said Ardern.
Bloomfield said authorities expected to see the high number of cases continue over the next few days – largely because of the large number of household contacts and more infectious nature of the strain.
This was neither concerning nor unexpected, he said, but it would be worrying if they started seeing more cases in the community.
Of the 511 cases, 453 cases have been clearly epidemiologically-linked to another case or sub-cluster, while there are a further 58 cases for which links are yet to be fully established.
There are still seven sub-clusters in the outbreak – the Māngere church cluster is still the largest with now 237 cases while the Birkdale cluster is the second biggest with 68 cases.
The Prime Minister said AUT was one site she wanted people to be “especially mindful of”.
“This is a difficult location to contact trace, but we do know it has resulted in 20 cases, thus far. Please if you’re connected to AUT, look up the locations of interest for the site and follow the public health advice. It clearly sets out the different parts of the campus that we’re particularly mindful of. And we need people to come forward for testing.”
STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG
Ardern said of the cases reported yesterday, more than 75 per cent were cases of known contacts. More than half were household contacts.
Only two cases were considered infectious before level 4 restrictions came in.
Of the cases, 25 had exposure events outside the household. These tended to be essential workplace sites, and non-public facing.
There were a small number of workplaces – four – that had seen transmission within staff, she said. The Government was seeking further information and would tighten restrictions if necessary.
Nothing so far had given them cause to rethink the situation for Auckland and Northland – Cabinet is set to discuss the lockdown extension for both regions tomorrow. The rest of New Zealand moves to level 3 from 11.59pm on Tuesday.
If there was evidence things needed to be tightened up to further try to contain the virus spread, Government would do so, Ardern said.
Regarding the introduction of level 3 and more businesses operating, Bloomfield said there would be some changes. Masks were compulsory now, and it was his advice that this should continue at level 3. People would also be strongly encouraged to keep a two-metre distance.
Ardern said there were still mystery cases coming through, which reinforced the need for people to be keep being vigilant. As more locations of interest started coming through, the cases were linked.
Bloomfield said there had been cases early in level 4 who had been infected before the lockdown and who had infected others. More critical was in the past 5 to 7 days. At this stage there was no evidence of any infections outside of those in essential workplaces.
Of the 34 people in hospital, 17 are in Middlemore Hospital, 13 are in Auckland City Hospital, three in North Shore Hospital, and one is in Wellington Regional Hospital. Ardern said the hospital cases, while all stable, were “deeply concerning”.
It was why the Government had taken the actions it had. Delta was known to be more infectious and lead to more hospitalisations.
More than 40 per cent of those in hospital are under 30 – a reflection, Bloomfield said, of similar trends overseas. The overall hospitalisation rate was 6-7 per cent, a little higher than before, he said.
Ardern said this outbreak was not like the first lockdown – back then there was little known about how many cases there were and testing was at a different level. They were also dealing with a different variant.
Bloomfield confirmed they had not picked up all the cases in the first outbreak. In terms of progress, the R rate was now below 1 and needed to be even lower, Bloomfield said.
Without lockdown, New Zealand would be at New South Wales’ levels of cases, Bloomfield said.
Around funerals, Ardern said while it was “devastating” for those involved, they still needed to be restricted to prevent any further tragedy from the spread of cases. Bloomfield said he was looking at further advice around options for funerals.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newstalk ZB this afternoon that today’s case number “looks like” a plateau.
The reproduction number of the virus was now below 1, which was “basically is good news”.
People were clearly following lockdown rules to stamp out the country’s Delta outbreak, he said.
The contact tracing had been a challenge, Baker said, due to the huge number of close contacts.
Still, Baker was optimistic with the current situation.
“We got to it in the knick of time with the lockdown,” he said.
“It looks like we got to it in the nick of time,” with our lockdown.
Australia is more like the example of “what not to do”, Baker says.
Australia’s lockdown is more like our alert level 3, Baker says.
Vaccination was “the best thing” people could do to protect themselves and others, Ardern said.
On vaccine supplies she said demand was currently about 70,000 to 90,000 a day. They would provide an update this week on how supplies would be able to continue to meet that demand.
The peak for the rollout was now above that of Canada, the UK and US, she said. They were working on a range of strategies to maintain that.
The Government was keeping all options open, Ardern said.
Introducing different vaccines at this time presented different challenges that might not make the rollout any faster, Ardern said.
On vaccine booster shots, Bloomfield said they were watching the situation very closely. Israel, which had a wide vaccination rollout early on, was important to watch in this regard.
Contact tracing, vaccine and Covid test numbers
As of 10am Sunday, there were more than 32,000 contacts – including more than 29,000 close contacts – connected to the outbreak. Of these more than 26,000, 80 per cent, had been followed up. More than 85 per cent had had a test so far.
More than 23,000 swabs were taken yesterday.
Officials revealed 77,965 vaccines were administered on Saturday. Of these, 55,779 were first doses and 22,177 were second doses.
More than 3.28 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to date. Of these, more than 2.1 million are first doses and more than 1.14 million are second doses.
More than 194,133 Māori have received their first vaccination. Of these, more than 104,146 have also had their second vaccinations. More than 125,495 doses first doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Of these, more than 70,754 have also received their second doses.
All residents in the Warkworth rest home where a positive staff member had been working have so far returned negative tests – good news, says Bloomfield.
Covid was picked up originally in the town’s wastewater samples – and another test from Friday has also come back positive.
The virus was also detected in samples collected across Auckland, and from Wellington (Moa Point) on Friday.
Samples collected from five sites within Christchurch on August 26 have come back negative, with more analysis today and tomorrow from a further nine sites across the city.
Ongoing wastewater testing is occurring, with 125 sites tested through the outbreak.
Mental health support
Jacinda Ardern said the ongoing positive cases, combined with lockdown, could be hugely unsettling, impacting on mental health.
It was OK to feel frustrated and there were places to go for help, Ardern said.
There had been a spike in calls to Youthline since the last lockdowns. An additional $1m would be put into increasing support, particularly for rangatahi in Auckland and Northland.
There was also targeted assistance for Pacific communities, which had borne the brunt of the outbreak so far, she said, and assistance for those struggling to access food. An extra $7m was announced yesterday to assist organisations with things like distributing food parcels and welfare packages.
More motel units had also been contracted to assist those who could be sleeping rough.
People who did not feel safe at home in their bubble can leave their bubble, Ardern said.
On National and Act opposing a virtual Parliament, Ardern said she was disappointed. The Government was willing to make themselves available in a safe manner. The proposal met the needs for scrutiny and accountability, without putting staff at risk, she said.
Ardern said she would participate, despite disagreeing with the position those parties had taken.
There were 82 community cases and one MIQ case yesterday – the most daily community cases up until then – and a nervous week lies ahead as the country waits to see whether lockdown has done enough to quash the virus, or simply to slow it.
It was revealed this morning that a worker at a managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid – and 73 essential workers have been infected so far in the Delta outbreak.
The Ministry of Health says an investigation is under way into how the staff member at the Four Points by Sheraton in central Auckland was infected.
But a spokesperson says they are potentially linked to the community outbreak. Whole genome sequencing is being undertaken to confirm their source of infection.
The Auckland Regional Public Health Service is identifying a small number of close contacts. All workers in managed isolation facilities wear appropriate PPE.
The ministry says around 73 of the 429 cases in the Auckland cluster are essential workers. It is unclear how many were infected after New Zealand went into lockdown on August 18.
Of the cases recorded between 18 and 27 August, 72 per cent are as yet unlinked through their household to other cases.
Over the same period 55 per cent of cases had exposure events related to them and are therefore considered to have been infectious in the community. Most of the exposure events created by these cases were prior to Alert Level 4.
Cabinet will meet again tomorrow to decide on Auckland’s alert level, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already said it was almost certain that Auckland and Northland would have level 4 extended for at least another week, and Auckland for at least at another two weeks.
Northland was expected to stay at level 4 as a precaution because of concerns about a positive case in a worker at a rest home near Warkworth.
That person had worked for two days while infectious, but was fully vaccinated and was wearing the PPE required for level 4.
Ardern has also indicated more information will be available on the spread of the virus – including any spread during lockdown rather than before lockdown, and what proportion of cases are household contacts rather than those who caught it elsewhere.
Meanwhile, an Auckland University medical expert says it’s “entirely predictable” case numbers are increasing and he is not particularly concerned, given the lag in testing.
“My suspicion is that level four is working very well and that cases have already peaked but we may see a delay in reporting [the numbers],” Auckland University School of Medicine Professor Des Gorman told Newstalk ZB’s Francesca Rudkin today.
“The thing we we have to look for are infections arising after lockdown and the groups to watch, of course, will be the essential workers.”
Gorman agreed with modellers who said the outbreak would peak early this week with the caveat there was the lag in reporting cases and people getting tested.
He said clearly there were different ways of looking at the numbers following the announcement of 82 cases yesterday – the highest daily number in the outbreak so far – and other other experts suggesting Auckland might need tighter lockdown restrictions, amid fears of an even longer period in alert level four.
“I know that other people see all sorts of dragons there… they might eventually be proven to be right but there’s no evidence to support their particular argument at the moment that something is happening, other than spread within households.
“I think we’ve got to be careful that people declare their biases and their conflicts when they start reporting on these sorts of things because in fact the public’s very vulnerable to information which is either alarmist or depressing and I don’t think you motivate people by fear.
“I think you motivate people by knowledge and information. If I said to you ‘look, there’s no reward for being vaccinated and this is terrible we will all be locked up to Christmas’, you might as well go for a walk and catch up with your friends because if it’s all hopeless, there’s no point. So I actually think we’ve got to look at the data, realistically, but there’s nothing wrong with actually not taking a pessimistic view to it.”
He said he was confident “we can eliminate this outbreak”.
“I am confident we can get the vaccination level up to the sorts of numbers we need… but do I think elimination is a long term strategy? No I don’t. I don’t think it’s possible to maintain an elimination strategy if no one else in the world is. That means you have to rely on a very hard border which is not compatible with our society, and means you have to rely on frequent lockdowns which means you run out of money and goodwill. Lockdowns now, while we are getting vaccinated, are the right thing to do – long term, they are not.”
‘The curve is bending but not fast enough’
Earlier, Aucklanders were being warned to manage their expectations ahead of a review of alert level settings on Monday, with one modeller warning another “terrible week” of high daily case numbers is on the cards.
Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy, who had provided advice to the Government on its response said Saturday’s case numbers were “discouraging”.
“We would like to see those numbers start to come down.”
Hendy said he was hoping the case load would just be a “blip” in the plateau.
“We do expect cases to plateau over the next few days. There will always be some noise in the data.”
He said there were shoots of optimism in the fact that new cases were clearly linked to existing ones.
“I wouldn’t say it’s ringfenced exactly yet. While [new cases] are still in existing clusters you can’t say it’s out of control,” he said.
“We’re starting to see the effects of alert level 4, I suspect we are still seeing a lot of household transmission,” Hendy said.
The advice came with a warning however, that if cases did not level off, it might be necessary to tighten up alert level 4 restrictions by shutting some supermarkets and being more selective about which businesses can open.
The two big supermarket chains were unaware of Hendy’s suggestion of “selectively closing supermarkets”.
A Countdown spokeswoman said the idea had not been put to them.
Foodstuffs head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said: “We take our guidance from the Ministry of Health and prefer not to comment on commentators in the media.”
Fellow modeller Rodney Jones was more pessimistic.
“We had a terrible week last week – this looks like next week will not be any better.”
Jones warned that the growth in cases still looked to be “exponential” despite director general of health Ashley Bloomfield saying that it was not.
“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.
He said asking when cases would plateau was “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.”
As of yesterday, 73 of the 429 cases were essential workers – a concern because many essential workers deal with members of the public in lockdowns.
It was unclear how many of those were infected or infectious since New Zealand went into lockdown on August 18.