70 new cases, all in Auckland, as Jacinda Ardern mulls alert levels

Kiwis have been heading out in record numbers to get tested. Photo: ODT files
Kiwis have been heading out in record numbers to get tested. Photo: ODT files

There are 70 new Covid cases, all of which are in Auckland, and one person linked to the outbreak is in ICU, the Ministry of Health has announced.

This brings the total number of cases in the community outbreak to 347.

There are still no cases identified in the South Island, but another sample of wastewater in Christchurch has returned a positive result for the virus.

However, the latest result, from Wednesday, was consistent with virus shedding from those cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities in the city.

The Ministry said further testing is underway from a range of sites in Christchurch. 

Nineteen of the current community cases are in a stable condition in hospital; one of these cases is in a stable condition in ICU. Of those in hospital, two are in North Shore Hospital, eight are in Middlemore Hospital, and nine are in Auckland City Hospital.

The case information will form a crucial part of the Government's decision about alert levels, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will announce from the Beehive at 3pm. 

The Ministry said the total number of community cases in Auckland was now 333 and in Wellington 14. 

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.

There were 278 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically-linked to another case or sub-cluster, and a further 69 for which links are yet to be fully established.

Case at Warkworth rest home

The staff member at the Amberlea Home and Hospital Care Facility in Warkworth worked in the facility's dementia ward.

However, that staff member is fully vaccinated and adhered to strict Infection, Prevention and Control protocol, including wearing face coverings and other PPE.

Meanwhile, there are no new cases of Covid in managed isolation today. There are currently 384 active cases (both in the community and in isolation facilities) being managed in New Zealand.

The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is now 2,941.

Another vaccine record

Yesterday 90,757 vaccines were administered. Of these, 65,541 were first doses and 25,216 were second doses. This was the largest daily total to date.

More than 3.11 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered to date. 

Of these, 2 million were first doses and more than 1.1 million were second doses.

More than 181,000 Māori have received their first vaccination. Of these, more than 100,000 have also had their second vaccinations.

More than 117,000 doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Of these, more than 67,000 have also received their second doses. 

Six clusters

There were currently six epidemiologically-linked subclusters identified within this outbreak. The two largest clusters are the Birkdale Social Network cluster associated with Case A (45 confirmed cases), and the Mangere church cluster (146 confirmed cases). The remaining clusters have fewer than 20 people associated with them.

Of these 70 new cases, 44 are Pacific peoples, 11 are Asian, six are European, six are Māori, and the ethnicity of three is unknown.

There were no new cases identified at the border in recent returnees to report today.

The total number of active cases being managed in New Zealand is currently 384, which included cases linked to the border.

Since January 2021, there had been 124 historical cases, out of a total of 1,123 cases.

The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is 2,941. 

Experts urge 'cautious' approach to alert levels

Experts are urging a few more days in lockdown across the country as part of a "cautious approach" to containing the Delta outbreak.

And the Government's top adviser says while "I'd love to say Santa Claus exists" there was no easy way to stamp out Delta and there were still tough times ahead.

Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said there was still a risk the virus could be incubating outside Auckland and Wellington.

Level 3 was good at containing spread, but not at eliminating the virus, Baker said.
Bar any developments, a "cautious" approach could see the South Island enter level 3 from Tuesday, meaning it had been through a full 14-incubation period since the lockdown began.

Level 3 included opening up gatherings to 10, and limited hospitality services, but still prevented large gatherings including most businesses and schools.

"It is feasible [to go to level 3] from this weekend, but carries more risk," Baker said.
It was also feasible the North Island, bar Auckland, could also be lowered to level 3 then, but there remained some risk given the 12 cases in Wellington.

The fact they were all contained in their bubbles and there had been no spread was reassuring, Baker said.

"One option could be for Wellington and/or the North Island to hold on a bit longer, and then effectively split the country into three zones with Auckland."

More information about cases that were already effectively quarantined, in their bubbles, and those that were out in the community needed to be provided, Baker said.

If there was a move down alert levels, Baker said the Government should look to carry mandatory mask use in certain crowded indoor levels with it.

Eminent epidemiologist Sir David Skegg says he is cautiously optimistic New Zealand will get out of this outbreak - but it all depended on the community's ongoing response.

He said on current progress, he expected the country to emerge from lockdown in a few weeks.

But Skegg, the Government's adviser on elimination, told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that even with vaccination levels up, public health measures would still need to be maintained with Delta.

"Unfortunately there's no easy way out of. I'd love to say Santa Claus exists but unfortunately whatever we do in New Zealand we are going to have some tough times ahead."

Skegg maintained elimination remained the best option for New Zealand. "No one would have wished to have this outbreak but the good thing is that it is making people realise we need to get vaccinated," he said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we will get out of this but Delta is definitely a lot more infectious, it's a lot more difficult to stamp out and it really all depends on us," said Skegg.

"If we observe the lockdown better than Melbourne and Sydney have done then, of course, we will get rid of this in the next few weeks ... I'm expecting this to happen."



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