Alert Levels restrictions continue for Auckland, Waikato, Northland, manditory vaccination for high-risk workers

Covid restrictions in Auckland won't be relaxed just yet and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says alert level 3 "as it stands" will stay in place for another week.

She says schools in Auckland will not re-open on October 18 and further public health advice will be issued next week. Distanced learning will recommence in term 4.

Ardern said Waikato and Northland will remain at alert level 3 until 11:59pm on Thursday.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said workers in health and education sectors will be required to be vaccinated. "We can't leave anything to chance," he said, and it wasn't an easy decision.

Education and health-care workers need jab

Hundreds of thousands of education and health staff - including teachers, GPs, pharmacists, nurses - will need to be fully vaccinated in the coming months or face losing their jobs.

The two-dose deadline for high-risk health and disability staff is December 1 this year, and for education - including all school and ECE staff who come into contact with students - it is January 1 next year.

Secondary schools, from next year, will also be required to keep a register to show the vaccination status of students.

Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, has just revealed Cabinet's decision on mandatory vaccinations for workers in the education and healthcare workers.

"It's not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven't yet been vaccinated to take this extra step," he said.

"Exemptions may be possible under some circumstances."

Healthcare workers will have to be fully vaccinated by December 1 this year, and will need to have had their first dose by October 30.

The public health order requiring this will include general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units).

"These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and NGOs who provide health services," Hipkins said.

The full list will be provided in the next few days.

All staff at schools and ECEs who have contact with children and students will need to have a first dose by November 1, and to be fully vaccinated by January 1.

"This includes home-based educators, and all those support people in our schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors," Hipkins said.

"Secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a Covid-19 vaccination register for students. Students that do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated."

Hipkins said all school employees in Auckland and other level 3 regions will be required to return a negative Covid-19 test before they can return to work onsite.

"Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to January 1, 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing."

The Government was still considering whether mandatory vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector.

Ardern on alert level decisions

In Waikato, more than 23,000 tests since the first cases reported on Oct 3 - which is 4 per cent of the population.

Ardern said Waikato will remain at alert level 3 until 11:59pm on Thursday. Hipkins will confirm a move to level 2 if it is safe to do so.

"Thank you for getting vaccinated," Ardern said about the Waikato.

Ardern said in Northland, the Government has "pieced together what it can" from CCCTV footage and police investigations.

Delta is a different and more difficult opponent, Ardern said, and no other country has eliminated the outbreak. She said getting to zero cases in Auckland has been "very tough".

Restrictions are still important while vaccinations are underway, Ardern said. Last week she said safe and minor changes were made, such as going outside to see another household. But she said people do need to follow the rules, and measures when followed "make all the difference".

She wants to see the R value as close to 1 as possible, but it has increased in recent days and more cases will follow.

Cabinet has decided Auckland will remain in alert level 3 "as it stands" for another week.

This will be reviewed again next Monday.

NZ ahead of Germany, US on first doses

New Zealand has surpassed the US and Germany on first doses of the vaccine, she said.
Last week half a million doses were administered, and a record number of Maori turned out.

Ardern said Super Saturday will be introduced to boost vaccination rates, and an opportunity for people to get their second dose if it has been 3 weeks.

Health experts urge caution

Public health experts earlier called on the Government to refrain from easing any alert level restrictions, given the increase in case numbers and the ongoing unknown factors in Northland.

The number of unlinked cases in Auckland in the past 14 days has grown for six consecutive days. Today it is 58. The previous days it has been 49, 30, 26, 23, and 15.

There are no new cases in the Waikato today, and there were three new cases each on Sunday, Saturday and Friday - all linked to the initial case in Hamilton East.

There are no known cases in Northland, but there are six locations of interest including a motel, a hotel, a campsite, a dairy and two petrol stations.

The travelling companion of the positive case who went to Whangārei is still yet to be located.

There have also been calls to strengthen the level 3 boundary around Auckland, and while Ardern has said she is considering mandating vaccinations for essential workers leaving the city, she is not expected to make announcements on this today.

Hipkins will also reveal any decisions about whether schools will reopen on October 18.

This morning a number of health and youth experts, in an Otago University public health blogpost, called for a clear strategy to minimise any infections in school settings.

These included mandatory vaccination for all adults on school sites - and no on-site learning to start before 90 per cent vaccination coverage for staff - regular staff testing, vaccination events in schools, and guidelines on ventilation, physical distancing and mask use.

Cabinet considers many factors when considering alert level changes, including the number and nature of cases, the levels of public compliance, and the impact on the economy.

Ardern has also said that the lockdown equation changes as vaccination levels increase.

She hasn't tied any targets to easing restrictions, although she has said that 90 per cent coverage of the eligible population in the Waikato could have avoided that region going into level 3.

This morning Auckland's eligible population was at 86 per cent with one dose, but last week's suburb-by-suburb data showed low double dose rates for many of the suburbs of concern including parts of Māngere, Clover Park, Manurewa, Papakura, and Favona.

On Friday Hipkins said that about 70 per cent of the eligible population in Northland have had one dose, while 48 per cent have had two doses. Those rates are lower for Māori: 52 per cent for one dose and 32 per cent fully vaccinated.

Some parts of the Waikato where cases have been also have relatively low vaccination rates. In Raglan, for example, only 42 per cent of the eligible population are fully vaccinated.

Today the Ministry of Health reported 35 new cases - all in Auckland - 21 of which are unlinked.

Two staff members in North Shore Hospital have tested positive, following a positive case reported yesterday in a patient receiving treatment in the dialysis unit adjacent to North Shore Hospital.

Three staff members in Auckland City Hospital have tested positive for the virus.

Te Pāti Māori called for level 4 in Auckland and level 3 for the rest of the North Island until eligible Māori were 95 per cent vaccinated.

"Failure to do so is committing our people to death by Covid" te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said."The reality is that the Government has failed to deliver to Māori.

They have failed to uphold their responsibility to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. And now we are on the brink of a catastrophe that none of us are prepared or resourced for simply because they won't hand over power [to localised, whānau-led responses]."

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This article was first published by the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.