Auckland to move to Alert Level 3 at 11:59pm on September 21, 33 new community cases of Covid-19

Auckland will remain at level 4 for another week, until 11.59pm on September 21, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Cabinet has made an in-principle decision that Auckland will move to level 3 at that time.

Level 2 will remain for outside Auckland for another week, and Cabinet will review these settings on Monday next week.

Ardern said Aucklanders were owed a debt of gratitude for the ongoing lockdown and that "the next week will be critical in providing the additional reassurance we need".

Ardern asked residents in Mt Eden, Massey, Mangere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Otara and Manurewa to be especially vigilant.

"Please stick to your bubble. Stay home as much as possible. Try to reduce risk by having just one person go to the shop or supermarket."

Earlier today, 33 new community cases were announced - all in Auckland. It is the highest number of daily cases in several days.

However, just one of those cases was at that time yet to be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak (meaning no person-to-person link with prior cases) had been established.

That case was a person who presented to Middlemore Hospital on Saturday. However, their seven other household members have also tested positive and are linked.

Ardern said that Delta was likely to be passed on to family members, which means numbers will keep "rumbling along".

That didn't mean alert level 4 wasn't working in Auckland, she said. The R value at the start of the outbreak was six or higher, but is now below 1.

Surveillance testing across certain suburbs and health care workers had not found any cases, she said.

"It is also clear there is not widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland."

But there were still three clusters producing cases outside household or close contact circles, and there were still unlinked cases.

In the last two weeks, 17 cases remain unlinked, and of those, only a handful were of "particular concern".

Experts say the number of unlinked mystery cases is a key factor that could prevent Auckland moving out of lockdown.

Today's cases took the outbreak to 9555 overall - 938 in Auckland and 17 in Wellington.

The outlook for Auckland last week indicated a slim chance of no more spread outside of people's bubbles by this week, but this changed after four cases visited Middlemore Hospital, sparking a series of new cases.

While case numbers remain low and contained, experts warn lifting Auckland out of lockdown too soon could risk reigniting the outbreak.

Those cases are also well spread across the city: Mt Eden, Mangere, Massey, Favona, Papatoetoe, Otara and Manurewa.

There are eight epidemiologically linked subclusters - the two largest subclusters are the Māngere church group (381) and the Birkdale social network cluster (76).

Nine subclusters are not epidemiologically linked.

There are 21 people with Covid in hospital and four in ICU.

Seven of yesterday's 20 cases had exposure events. The other 13 were in isolation throughout the period they were infectious.

Some 8657 Covid tests have been carried out in the last 24 hours - and almost half of those have been in Auckland.

There were no unexpected wastewater detections in the past 24 hours.

While the Government has previously said it would not necessarily wait until there were zero cases in the community before moving alert levels, it has been concerned by the number of unlinked or "mystery cases" popping up.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Newshub this morning he didn't believe there was wide community transmission in Auckland, but said there were a "handful of mystery cases" that were concerning and officials needed to know just how widespread they were.

Level 4 was tough, but it was the best chance of getting on top of the virus and breaking the chain of transmission, he said.

"That is happening, but there are still a few cases at the edges."

He promised the Government would to make sure it laid out a very clear plan for Aucklanders this afternoon.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker told TVNZ this morning he thought it was too early for Auckland to move out of level 4, and doing so could see new Covid cases flaring up again.

He said the mystery cases could prove to be a problem in that they could easily spark up other clusters.

"The trouble is these are people we don't know about.

"This is the end of the outbreak in Auckland and we just have to persist for a few more days."

Pacific health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga told TVNZ this morning he also felt it was too early for Auckland to come out of alert level 4 based on the new and mystery cases still popping up in the community.

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