Auckland to stay at Alert Level 4, rest of NZ to move to Alert Level 3 if test come back clear

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Auckland will stay in alert level 4 for at least two more weeks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed. The decision will be reviewed on September 13.

Northland will go to level three at 11:59pm on Thursday if wastewater tests - which are due on Thursday - come back clear.

The rest of the country will move to level 3 - as earlier planned - from 11.59pm tomorrow night. Level 3 will remain in place for a week and will be reviewed on September 6.

Cabinet met today to discuss the country's alert levels, and Ardern said this afternoon that today's numbers showed level four was making a difference, with cases decreasing outside of households.

But, she said, "we need to be confident any cases we may have are contained and isolated".

Everyone in Auckland knows we are not there yet, Ardern said.

The PM presented a graph which indicated what would have happened if we hadn't moved quickly into lockdown, with cases "literally off the charts", totalling 550 per day.

"The more we do to limit our contact, the faster we exit these restrictions."

Ardern cited evidence offshore where countries were battling large hospitalisation rates.

Her final message was for those outside Auckland. "Level three does not mean freedom, it means caution."

She said Auckland was doing a huge service, which has maintained the gateway to the world and has worked hard to keep Kiwis safe during an outbreak.

It was too soon to say whether New Zealand had reached the outbreak's peak, Ardern said.

"Whether or not we have plateaued ... I do think we need more time."

Asked how concerned officials were about transmission among essential workers, Ardern said only four workers had been infected. However, she said it was important to adpat guidance for essential services if improvements could be made.

She hadn't seen any cases in businesses which shouldn't be operating in lockdown.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there would be a deep dive into those four positive cases to make sure advice could be adapted as needed.

On the passport vaccination issue, Bloomfield confirmed it was not necessary to show a passport for a jab. However, he explained the process of accessing an NHI number can be expedited by showing documentation. He was assured no particular group of people was being targeted in this way.

"Everybody in the programme is very aware ... that no one is required to show identification."

Ardern said the only requirement to get a jab was to physically be in New Zealand.

She said she wasn't aware of it happening before.

53 new community cases

It comes as 53 cases, all in Auckland, were announced on Monday. After highs of 82 and 83 in the preceding days, the drop is the strongest indication yet the lockdown in place since August 18 is having an impact.

Bloomfield described today's data as encouraging.

He said of yesterday's 83 cases, 72 per cent didn't create any new exposure events. Of yesterday's cases, only 28 per cent were considered to be infectious in the community.

Bloomfield said the R-value was now under 1, which was a good sign.

One hundred and one essential workers were cases, but many were from earlier in the outbreak, Bloomfield said. Four were infectious in their workplace and seven had been infected in their workplace.

Regardless, Ardern on Friday signalled alert level 4 settings for Auckland and Northland were likely to be extended another week, and potentially two for Auckland - the epicentre of the outbreak with 547 of the 562 cases.

The other 15 cases are all in Wellington, but are contacts of Auckland cases.

Northland has been included because of the tens of thousands of people who left Auckland and travelled north in the 48-hour window allowed after lockdown was announced, which saw case contacts scattered across the region.

It also reflected the vulnerability of the community to an outbreak, with low vaccination rates particularly for Māori at just half of the national rate.

Thirty-seven cases are now in hospital. Of those, five patients are in ICU, three of whom require ventilation.

Close to 47,900 Covid vaccines were administered yesterday - a record for a Sunday. Over 50 per cent of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Of the 3.33 million doses of the vaccine administered to date, 2.17 million are first doses and 1.16 million are second doses.

Ardern said rates of vaccinations would be looked at during the week to see how long current levels could be maintained while having enough in stock.

There are now 79 confirmed cases in the Birkdale Social Network cluster and 280 in the Māngere church cluster.

The ministry said ESR has run whole genome sequencing on samples taken from about 345 community cases. Analysis shows they are all genomically linked to the current outbreak.

The drop in cases from the weekend – when over 80 new cases were recorded on both Saturday and Sunday – is a welcome sign as Cabinet prepares to meet to confirm the extension of level 4 for Auckland and Northland from 11.59pm Tuesday.

Most of the new cases will be from tests on Saturday, when 23,000 people were swabbed for Covid-19.

Yesterday 16,370 tests were processed across New Zealand. That was lower than the 36,000 tests on Thursday and 37,000 on Friday.

Death linked to Pfizer vaccine

Meanwhile, a woman has died after developing myocarditis, a rare side effect of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.

The Ministry of Health said this was the first case in New Zealand where a death in the days following vaccination has been linked to the Pfizer vaccine.

The Ministry says the Covid-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board advised officials to ensure that healthcare professionals and consumers remained vigilant and were aware of the signs of myocarditis and pericarditis following her death.

"The CV-ISMB considered that the myocarditis was probably due to vaccination. The CV-ISMB noted that there were other medical issues occurring at the same time which may have influenced the outcome following vaccination," said the Ministry in a statement.

The woman's death had been referred to the Coroner and the cause of death had not yet been determined, said the Ministry.

Asked about vaccine hesitancy in light of the vaccine-related death, Bloomfield recognised it would be a worry for some, but reassured people that there was plenty of evidence the vaccine was safe and myocarditis was very rare.

While the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring had received other reports of deaths in someone recently vaccinated, none were considered related to vaccination.

The Ministry said the benefits of vaccination using the Pfizer brand continued to greatly outweigh the risk of both Covid infection and vaccine side effects, including myocarditis.

Public health guidelines

  1. Stay home
  2. If you have to go out make sure you wear a mask
  3. Stay in your bubble and reduce contact with others
  4. Act as if you have Covid-19 and as if others around you do to 

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