Auckland Airport are running an incentive promotion encouraging people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Video / Dean Purcell
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The most dangerous phase of the Covid-19 pandemic could still be ahead for New Zealand and opening up even with high vaccination rates could lead to thousands of deaths.
University of Canterbury modeller Prof Michael Plank is working with the Ministry of Health along with other researchers at Te Punaha Matatini on showing how quickly Covid-19 could spread once borders open and restrictions are lifted.
Modelling showed even with high vaccination rates opening up could still lead to deaths and cases on a scale New Zealand is yet to experience.
”The modelling shows that if vaccination rates are in the 70s or low 80s in the eligible population, a large-scale outbreak could still threaten our health service capacity and lead to tens of thousands of hospitalisations and thousands of deaths.
”If we can get into the 90s, the threat will be much smaller and could be limited to a more manageable number of hospitalisations with some additional public health measures, ” Plank said.
The ominous scenarios come as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week the Government had no intention of using lockdowns long-term against Covid-19 and as the Ministry of Health plans for how to manage the virus in a post-lockdown environment.
Plank said the pandemic was not over for New Zealand yet and there were challenging times ahead.
Meanwhile one new location of interest has been announced by the Ministry of Health this morning.
A person with Covid-19 was at the Mayfield Superette at 15 Johnstones Rd in Otara on Friday (September 10) between 6pm and 6.15pm.
It is the second time the shop has been mentioned on the list, with authorities saying yesterday that a person with Covid was also there on Saturday (September 11) between 4pm and 4.15pm.
‘If you hate lockdowns get a shot’
Epidemiologist Rod Jackson said New Zealand had far fewer ICU bed than most other OECD countries – but no system could cope with a Delta outbreak.
He asked colleagues in Ireland how they had got such high vaccination rates and the answer was “scared sh*tless” because they had seen so many deaths.
“If you’ve got a spread like you get with Delta, it’s basically a super spreading virus, you don’t even need a super spreading setting, it’s a super spreading virus and no system can cope with an outbreak of Delta.”
Jackson said you only needed to look at Sydney, which had been locked down for 11 weeks and was “finally getting some sort of control”.
“It’s scary, scary stuff.”
Jackson believed 95 per cent of over 12 year olds needed to be vaccinated as that still left 700,000 children under 12 and 250,000 people who were unvaccinated.
The challenge over the next few months was to move the vaccine-hesitant people to being vaccinated, rather than the small number of anti-vaxxers who he didn’t think should be given any oxygen, he told The AM Show.
Jackson agreed it was only a matter of time until Delta came back and there were only two ways to deal with Delta – lockdowns or vaccines.
“My message to New Zealanders is if you hate lockdowns get a shot, if you really hate lockdowns get two.”
”So far New Zealand has enjoyed one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 in the world.
”Once we open up, it’s very likely we will see more cases than we have in the past and these will inevitably lead to hospitalisations and deaths.”
To protect themselves people needed to get vaccinated as unvaccinated sections of the population would be at very high risk of catching Covid-19 when borders opened.
”The higher vaccination rates we can get, the easier it will become to manage these outbreaks and the less we’ll have to rely on lockdowns.”
The Ministry of Health was expected to soon present Health Minister Andrew Little with a strategy that will show what the health system could look like if the virus was not handled by lockdowns.
New measures could include home-based care for people with Covid-19 to reduce strain on hospitals.
The new strategy was tipped to be presented to Little within the next three to four weeks.
Little said yesterday morning the way to avoid putting pressure on the health system was to get vaccination numbers up.
But even with a highly vaccinated population with the borders open, the number of Covid-19 cases would still go up.
Having 80 per cent of the population vaccinated was one figure officials were looking at, as other countries had reached that vaccination rate.
But the Government wanted to do better than that and was keen to reach a target ”right up into the 90s”.
Plank agrees with claims from Australian modellers that the reopening of NSW will be a disaster.
The Canterbury University professor told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking his group’s
modelling showed that reopening New Zealand with 70-80 per cent vaccination would still leave the country vulnerable.
“It will be difficult to avoid large scale health impacts – that could include tens of thousands of hospitalisations and potentially thousands of deaths.
The United Kingdom had reasonably high vaccine coverage, he said. “But they also still have a lot of people dying.”
Most deaths were in older people “but not exclusively so”, he said.
There was an “enormous” number of people in Britain in hospital including a number of younger people.
Plank believed it was possible to get vaccination of our eligible population into the 90s.
“That’s the way to reduce the health impacts that will come when we open up our borders and we inevitably do start to get outbreaks of Covid-19.”
‘My money wasn’t good enough’
A Pacific community leader in Auckland recovering from Covid-19 continues to call on government officials to “be better” in its response to the current outbreak.
Tuala Tagaloa Tusani made headlines last week after he said he and his partner, who also has the virus, were refused hospital treatment after calling reception at the managed isolation facility they were in.
Tuala is well-known among the Samoan and wider Pacific community in Auckland for his work to help members of the community.
This was the first time he had needed help, he said. But when he was refused an
ambulance call by staff at the MIQ facility, he felt the colour of his skin was now the issue.
“I even offered to pay for the ambulance. My money wasn’t good enough,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast show.
“The only thing I could think of was that the colour of my skin was a barrier [for me getting help].”
Tuala said after he shared his story last week, he had been contacted by other families in the Pasefika community who shared similar experiences.
He became emotional, however, when speaking about the fact some people had wanted to give up asking for help from authorities.
“When they said they were going to give up, I had no answer. This is why I’m very angry. There are many of us.”
Tuala also called out Pacific MPs for their lack of support for his family, in particular.
Despite his story being widely shared last week, he said he had had “zero” communication from any of them.
Associate Health Minister Aupito William Sio has acknowledged the inequities and barriers some people – namely Māori and Pacific – have faced in the current Covid outbreak.
Aupito, also the Minister for Pacific Peoples, was speaking to TVNZ’s Breakfast in response to Pacific community leader Tuala.
Asked whether the work he had done had been enough, Aupito said: “Kindness and alofa (love) is what drives the work that we’re doing.”
Aupito said part of the work he and others have been doing to help the Pacific community was working with church and community leaders about pushing the message to get vaccinated.
Tough for Middlemore while staff in self-isolation
Clinical Director of Middlemore Hospital’s Emergency Department, Dr Vanessa Thornton, said staff were working hard in difficult conditions.
As well as having to deal with a Covid outbreak, they were still having to deal with the usual health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, she told the Breakfast programme.
Thornton said they got about 400 people coming through its emergency department each day.
“We’re looking for Delta with everyone and we screen everyone at the front door.”
Thornton acknowledged they were also dealing with many of their staff affected by the Covid outbreak – people needing to isolate because they had been at a location of interest, for example.
But they had managed to pull in resources from all parts of the hospital and were doing well, she said.
No jab, no job at Air NZ?
Air Zealand chief executive Greg Foran told the AM Show the company still consulting with staff over compulsory vaccinations.
“We are getting some good responses back. We will conclude that towards the middle of next week and then having got that we will look at what we have learnt and make a decision from there.”
Foran said people were receptive and it already had a vaccination rate in the mid 80 per cent and just over 90 per cent with one dose.
“Pretty overwhelming support for getting vaccinated. But we want to hear everyone’s point of view and that’s why we are doing the consultation.”
On the future of no more lockdowns and how that might affect flight scheduling and where Air NZ would fly to Foran said he wanted to see how things played out.
“I suspect there is going to be some countries where we have really high vaccination rates and that is probably going to make it a little bit easier for people to move and travel. But we will just see how it plays out and take that as it eventuates.”
Foran said it felt like the transtasman bubble as we knew it, which didn’t require any pre-departure testing, or vaccination, that is going to be very difficult to replicate.
“It is more likely that most countries will fall into the bucket of you are probably going to need some degree of vaccination and some degree of testing.”
Foran was also asked how the airline was handling enforcement of mask-wearing given the issues being seen by security guards at supermarkets and bus drivers having enforcement issues.
“On most occasions people are very accommodating and they realise what they need to do. Obviously there are some situations – but they are very minor and our staff handle those wonderfully well – they are well trained and we are working through the process as everyone in New Zealand is.”
— Additional reporting: Otago Daily Times