Pressure on PM to set out Auckland's future

Jacinda Ardern is due to set out the Government's new system for a highly vaccinated population...
Jacinda Ardern is due to set out the Government's new system for a highly vaccinated population on Friday, and possible changes to MIQ will be revealed next week. Photo: ODT files
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern prepares to unveil the vaccination rate targets for easing lockdowns, there are calls to loosen the rules for MIQ while Covid-positive people in Auckland's outbreak are quarantining at home.

Auckland is at the centre of the Delta outbreak and has been in the highest restricted alert levels 4 and 3 for 10 weeks.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed yesterday that at least 86 positive cases were isolating at home rather than in quarantine facilities.

However, he said that was only in Auckland. Positive cases in other areas were still taken to quarantine to try to prevent the risk of spread.

That has led to calls from National and Act to bring forward plans for vaccinated travellers who test negative for Covid-19 to also be allowed to isolate at home.

Health Minister Andrew Little told the AM Show this morning that the people isolating at home were assessed as reasonably low risk, but were infected. They were required to isolate at home and welfare checks, but they were complying with the requirements to isolate until they were better.

Little said going forward there will be a lot more people recovering from Covid in their home once the country got to the higher vaccination levels. If their homes were not suitable or overcrowded, then they would find a facility for them to go to.

National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said only 19 fully vaccinated travellers had tested positive for Covid in MIQ between August 23 and October 12, and only two of those were after day 8.

"The risk of vaccinated travellers spreading Covid after seven days in MIQ is miniscule. In fact, there is much more Covid in the Auckland community than there is in MIQ."

Act leader David Seymour said it made no sense for vaccinated people coming from overseas who had negative tests to still have to go through 14 days in MIQ while Covid-positive people in the community were allowed to stay home.

National leader Judith Collins yesterday unveiled her party's proposed plan, including an end to lockdowns and starting to reopen the borders either on December 1 or when the vaccination rate hits 85–90 per cent, whichever was earliest.

That is the same date Act believes the borders should reopen more, although some have panned it as too risky.

Collins also criticised the PM for the delay in releasing the Government's plan, saying people needed certainty as soon as possible.

Ardern is due to set out the Government's new system for a highly vaccinated population on Friday, and possible changes to MIQ will be revealed next week.

Hipkins said MIQ was in a state of "transition" and home isolation and shorter stays had been well signalled. Stays of 5-7 days for vaccinated travellers were in the Government's earlier roadmap plans. However, it is unclear when that will begin.

He said people returning from overseas now would not necessarily be based in Auckland, and the Government did not want to risk introducing Covid to other regions.

Hipkins announced yesterday that senior students at Auckland and Waikato secondary schools would return to school from next Tuesday in time for exams, however there is much less certainty around when the rest of Auckland can resume their lives.

Nor is it certain whether younger students will return soon. Announcements on those from Years 1 to 10 would come on Tuesday, but Ardern said that was a much riskier group because children up to 12 years old could not yet be vaccinated.

Health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield warns case numbers would continue to rise in Auckland in the coming days and weeks - there were 60 new cases yesterday, a drop on the 94 of the day before.

However, Bloomfield said although daily numbers would go up and down, the overall trajectory would be an increase. Cases numbers were expected to double around every 10 - 12 days and public health teams around the country were on standby.

Many of the new cases were from North Shore and New Lynn, and Bloomfield said new suburbs of interest included Bayswater, Rosedale and Redvale – where a large party was recently held.

Although 89 per cent of Auckland's eligible population had now had at least one vaccine, Hipkins said at least 200,000 people nationwide still needed to get them to be safe.

A new "Two Shots for Summer" campaign was about to be launched to target the 16–19-year-old age cohort.

Little on vaccination rates

Andrew Little told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB said DHBs are responsible for rolling out the vaccination campaign in their area including Maori populations.

Asked why it's an ethnic issue, Little said that was a good question but there were some Maori who weren't enrolled in a practice.

Andrew Little says the Government is working more closely with Māori health groups and providers...
Andrew Little says the Government is working more closely with Māori health groups and providers to help get more Māori vaccinated. Photo: RNZ
If they were hard to contact they were reliant on people walking in somewhere at the right time.

Whether it was ethnic or not, Little said the Māori rate was lifting at the moment along with Pacifica but the Māori rate did lag.

Pressed to differentiate between it being a health and ethnic issue, Little said if they lowered the restrictions and left a chunk of the population exposed that could pose a risk.

When the target was set for the vaccination rate, will there be a last man standing or can the rest of the public get on with their life, Little said 90 per cent is the target and also one by population group as well, people were still under restrictions and asking why.

Little said they were aware of that but they wanted to make a last burst to get the rest vaccinated.

Those that weren't unvaccinated become "the big spreaders".

Little said in the vulnerable population groups, including Māori, they did want to get the number up as close to 90 per cent as possible.

"I get the tension and it is difficult... but we want to get as many people vaccinated as possible because they become the problem for all of us."

At the start of last year there were 243 ICU beds in a ward.

Work had been done since then to lift that figure to between 320 and 340 beds.

There had also been an increase in ventilators and training of new staff.

Asked if he was comfortable with that, Little said right now there were 767 active cases of Covid and 35 in hospital and 3 in ICU.

He was confident hospitals "could absorb" the pressure if there was an outbreak.

There had been 1000 operations being cancelled - or postponed - a week.

Little said some procedures did need ICU as a backup in case something went wrong. In level 4 surgeries are postponed and sometimes in level 3 but planned surgeries do typically get postponed.

They were getting into the backlog of last year and now there was a new backlog but he was hopeful the Ministry would have a plan to tackle that.

As for business people suffering fatigue and depression about the lockdowns, Little said he had heard that too and Stuart Nash had raised that with him. He said they needed to ensure there was psychosocial support for them.

Asked if lockdowns were out of whack given the deterioration in people's mental health , Little said he continually got told by people "don't put as risk" by relaxing alert levels.

Little says there was clearly a problem with the MIQ allocation spots for health and essential workers trying to get into New Zealand and revealed that he had to intervene on a number of occasions to allow workers across the border.

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast programme, he said there had been arrangement to clear up MIQ spots specifically for essential workers being recruited from overseas, but for some reason that arrangement had "broken down" in recent months.

He had intervened on about four occasions, he said.

"My office gets calls from outfits who are trying to bring health workers over and I look at it and think: 'Why can't they get the slot'?

"They are high priority people who are meant to be coming across. There was meant to be a system in place to allow that to happen reasonably smoothly - it just wasn't happening."
As a result, 300 dedicated slots in MIQ will be assigned to essential workers coming into New Zealand.

On vaccination rates, he said although things had slowed down a bit since Super Saturday, he said they had seen about 40,000 vaccinations a day and Māori vaccination rates were also going up.

Little said the Government was working more closely with Māori health groups and providers to help get more Māori vaccinated.

Little said Pasifika vaccination rates had also gone up markedly over the last few weeks, but vaccination rates among some Māori communities were still very low.

He said those particular communities were ones that were isolated and for many people living in those places, there had been no connection to the health system for much of their lives as a result.

"That's why we're struggling to get the numbers up. That says something about our health system. It says that it's not doing the job that we require of it to a large chunk of our population who need it."

Little acknowledged that the "for Māori by Māori" move to get more of the community vaccinated was one way in ensuring more people would come forward to get the jab.

"The Māori Health Authority will bring leadership and stewardship to it."

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