A daily wrap of all the main developments in the Covid-19 Delta outbreak as New Zealand is plunged into lockdown for the fifth time. Video / NZ Herald
COMMUNITY CASES LATEST
* 69 locations of interest, the earliest of which goes back to August 3 – potentially exposing a much wider window of exposure
* From today, masks mandatory in certain locations and vaccine rollout recommences
* The 10 Delta cases in NZ so far – what we know
* AUT student who attended lecture with 84 other students and Air NZ crew member among cases
* More than 200 people at Auckland church service attended by positive case
* Derek Cheng: No light at the end of the lockdown tunnel – yet
* Kate MacNamara: Government’s Covid spin spend masks a failure to deliver
More Covid cases are expected today, says Dr Ashley Bloomfield, amid revelations the Delta variant may have been in the New Zealand community for two weeks.
“I am fully expecting there will be more cases overnight,” Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking, but he refused to say how many or give any other details. He would be fully briefed at 9am, with the numbers released at 1pm.
He indicated new cases would involve household links to the existing 10 confirmed cases. Seventy per cent of Australia’s new Delta cases were from household cases, he said.
Police commissioner Andy Coster told the AM Show police turned away about 200 Aucklanders fleeing their homes to travel to holiday homes on the Coromandel.
Bloomfield’s commens came amid revelations the Delta variant may have been in the New Zealand community for more than two weeks, with one expert labelling a new location of interest from August 3 as “scary” and “worrying”.
Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newstalk ZB the new date was remarkable, scary – and very worrying.
He said a more complex picture was emerging – of who was really the first case and who passed the virus to whom.
August 3 “really pushes back the start of this outbreak,” Baker said. “It is a more complex picture that is emerging here.”
The locations of interest included “dangerous” settings like indoor bars, he said. The lockdown was likely to be longer than a week, he said.
Queues have already formed at the Northcote testing station, with up to 200 cars waiting in line.
Cars are queued from the testing site on College Rd, along Lake Rd and back onto Ocean View Rd.
New Zealand enters its second day of level-4 lockdown today – with new rules that make masks mandatory for supermarkets, taxis and using other essential services – after a positive Covid Delta test was returned by a Devonport man on Tuesday this week.
Officials had deemed the man – one of now 10 cases in New Zealand – had been infectious since Thursday last week.
But Auckland city eatery Sumthin Dumplin was last night listed by the Ministry of Health as a location of interest for one of the 10 cases from Tuesday, August 3.
Bloomfield told Hosking: “I was interested in that 3 August location… I think it’s someone who has tested positive, but may have reported symptoms that went back, so they have been preacutionary and gone right back to the third of August.”
Wasterwater tests had not suggested any presence of Covid infection in Auckland “until at least last Wednesday”, Bloomfield said. There would be more wasterwater test results to talk about at 1pm today.
Bloomfield said there were no South Island cases – all of the cases so far had been in Auckland.
The case of an Air NZ cabin crew member was “probably unrelated” to the outbreak, he said. He confirmed this was the earlier reported case of a woman in her 60s with links to the border.
Bloomfield defended his decision not to receive his own vaccination jab earlier. He told Hosking he was waiting his turn as he was in group 4, and he was booked in for Sunday.
Bloomfield told TVNZ there was a “real potential” the virus could become “widespread”, given the young demographic of the Covid cases this time around.
It was important that people – especially essential workers – checked the locations of interest regularly. People who had been at a location of interest were legally required to stay home.
“If we know about them, we can do something about them,” he said of the growing number of positive cases. “The important thing is that however long the lockdown is, we stick with it.”
“If we do what is required under alert level 4…we can get right back down to zero again.”
Baker said the other “very interesting and important” point was the detail of one of the 10 Delta cases – a 60-year-old woman who has links to the border. That case is now known to be the Air NZ crew member.
“We don’t know where she is in the sequence … but that could be very helpful if she has a connection to the border … and has a connection to the NSW lineage.”
Baker said the information released on Wednesday showed how many people could potentially be affected in Auckland and Coromandel.
He agreed there would be many more cases to emerge over the coming days.
Baker said the implications for “everyone in New Zealand” were obvious, giving examples of staying home, maintaining bubbles and wearing masks when outside.
Bloomfield said the ministry was preparing lockdown advice for Cabinet to consider tomorrow and would not be drawn on whether it would be extended. He said it was important that the country went into lockdown quickly and did not come out too early.
“Let’s see what the results show today,” Bloomfield said.
He said it could be that there were different decisions around a shifting in levels for the North and South Islands.
As for a suggestion Covid might now be out of control in New Zealand, Bloomfield said it had been six months since the country had community case of Covid. “We’re doing the best job we can…to keep New Zealanders safe.”
Locations of interest
The Health Ministry has so far identified nearly 70 exposure sites – these are listed in the graphic below and the public is being urged to regularly check ministry updates.
Avondale College case
An Avondale College staff member is speaking about the “shock” of finding out about a positive case at the school.
Seumanu Simon Matāfai, who works for the school’s gospel choir, was part of a college group heading back from Rotorua yesterday when they were told the news a teacher had tested positive for the virus.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG
Matāfai said they were “shocked and surprised” and started sending prayers and support for the teacher affected straight away.
“The virus is not bigger than us – we’re bigger than the virus,” he told TV1’s Breakfast show.
Matāfai himself contracted Covid-19 last year. His niece, a student at Avondale College, also became infected. “We are survivors,” he said.
“It’s important the Avondale College community get tested immediately and self-isolate for 14 days,” he said. He encouraged the college community to do all they should – including calling Healthline if they had flu-like symptoms.
Matāfai also shared that when he was sick with Covid in hospital last year, he was in the same Covid ward as Pasifika health leader Dr Joe Williams.
A cleaner in the ward broke the news of Williams’ death to Matāfai as he was struggling to get through Covid himself, he said.
Matāfai paid tribute to Williams, who was affectionately known as “Papa Joe” and had been working at his GP clinic right through. Wiliams would later succumb to the virus. He died on September 4, aged 85.
Covid response fund
Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ there was just under $5 billion in the Covid response fund. There were also other allocations such as the business guarantee scheme set aside that hadn’t been spent yet.
He said there was at least $6.5 billion in the coffers to deal with this which would be more than enough.
Robertson said the underlying fundamentals of the New Zealand economy were strong and the exporters continued to do a remarkable job for the country.
NZ now has 10 Delta cases
A new case with a link to the border has been picked up and officials are scrambling to determine whether the woman is linked to the current Auckland outbreak.
It comes as a modelling expert warns if the source of the virus can’t be identified, the country could face weeks of lockdown.
Late yesterday the Ministry of Health revealed three new cases. Two were linked to the current cluster, while one, a woman in her 60s, had been linked to a border case but not yet the latest outbreak.
Officials were carrying out interviews to establish any connection. Any links could prove a breakthrough in containing the current outbreak, while no link could mean a separate outbreak itself.
Key test results are expected today showing whether the Auckland strain is the same as three recent cases in MIQ who had the NSW variant. It has been identified as the NSW Delta – but no match for it has yet been found in New Zealand.
If it is not one of the remaining three to be tested, and no link from the woman her 60s is established with the outbreak, a massive hunt will start to re-check all those who recently arrived from Australia.
Last night, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said three new cases had been identified since the 1pm press conference where two other cases were announced.
This brings the total to 10.
Eight were linked to the first case reported on Tuesday, a 58-year-old tradesman from Devonport who travelled to Coromandel town over the weekend with his wife, who was fully vaccinated and returned two negative tests. One of the latest cases had been linked to a border case but not yet the latest outbreak.
Four of the cases were in a North Shore flat together – one a fully-vaccinated nurse at Auckland City Hospital and another a teacher at Avondale College, the country’s third-largest high school.
Hipkins also confirmed they were “almost certain” the Devonport man was not the index case.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday genome sequencing confirmed the current outbreak was the Delta strain of the virus, and that it came from New South Wales (NSW).
This ruled out several potential scenarios, Ardern said.
It could not be linked to Auckland City Hospital, where one of the recent cases was a nurse, as no Covid-19 patients there had come from NSW. There was also no link to the Wallabies rugby team, as they had been based in Queensland for some time before coming to New Zealand.
There was also no link to the father of one of the Auckland Delta cluster cases, who returned from Australia in May, Ardern said.
There were no known links to any border cases, apart from three that were currently going through genomic sequencing: one identified on August 9 and two on August 14.
Ardern said if there was no link found to these cases they would need to contact people on recent flights from Australia.
Top Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said if there was no border link New Zealanders should prepare for an outbreak already with a median size of 90 to 100 cases – with the possibility the virus has been quietly spreading for weeks.
Not everybody experienced severe symptoms, and the vaccination also helped to reduced symptoms, Hendy said.
This had been the situation with the cases so far in the Auckland Delta outbreak, a contact of those cases told the Herald.
However, people could still remain infectious despite being vaccinated.
“It stops severe complications but people can still have mild cases, and viral load can still be high in some people,” Hendy said.
There were a few of things that could bring the case estimates down.
“One is that vaccination rates are now at the level that they are starting to make a difference to spread,” Hendy said.
“Another is that testing rates have been pretty good.
“And a third is that wastewater testing last week came back negative so far too.”
Fellow modeller Professor Michael Plank said in the short term, we could expect numbers to grow.
“It’s important to remember that when we detect an outbreak like this, we expect to see a lot of cases come in at the start, because that’s our contact tracing catching up with the virus,” he said.
“So we shouldn’t be too alarmed to see a high rate of cases coming in. But that said, obviously, the more cases we pick up in the outbreak, the worse the situation is.
“If it turns out a close link can be established with a case who has returned from New South Wales via the MIQ system, the outbreak could be at the small end of the scale.
“If the source case travelled to New Zealand from another Australian state not required to go into MIQ, the virus could have been spreading undetected for some time and the outbreak could be much bigger.”
Plank said an optimistic scenario would also assume the incursion again hadn’t resulted in a “super-spreader” event.
“We would still see more cases in this scenario – but not too many.”
A number of locations of interest already identified could host such events: among them, Avondale College, SkyCity Casino, several bars and nightclubs, and the Auckland Central Church of Christ.
Hendy said if no link to the border could be established it was feasible all recent travellers from NSW would need to be tested and checked if they were the link.
Not being able to identify the source could see the three-day lockdown extended for weeks.
“If a short link to the border is not found we could be looking a lockdown for multiple weeks.”
Yesterday Ardern announced masks would be required for everyone over 11 years old in places like supermarkets, bus terminals, and taxis.
She also said the pause on vaccinations had started to ease in some places, and the whole programme would resume from 8am today.
The pause had allowed them time to safely set up clinics, including instigate drive-through measures.
The vaccination programme has come under intense scrutiny; New Zealand ranks the lowest in the OECD. As of midnight Tuesday, 23.4 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, 40.6 per cent have had at least one dose.
Based on health user population data, just over 17 per cent of Māori have been fully vaccinated compared to 25 per cent of Pākehā.
It was also revealed yesterday just 40 per cent of the 10,000 frontline police staff had received at least one dose of the vaccine, despite earlier pleas to be prioritised given their public-facing profession.
– Additional reporting Jamie Morton
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