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New Zealand will stay in lockdown until 11.59pm on Tuesday - and Auckland will likely remain at level-4 for a fortnight after that, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
The Government is taking a cautious approach and will extend the nationwide lockdown - due to expire at 11.59pm tonight - for another four days.
The additional time gives health experts a full 14-day cycle of data and information since the country went into lockdown on Tuesday night last week.
All going to plan, all of the country - except Auckland and Northland - would then drop to level 3 at 11.59pm next Tuesday, August 31.
Auckland will likely be at level-four for another two weeks after that, Ardern said.
The decision to keep Northland in level four has been made, partly due to a positive case in Warkworth.
When Auckland settings are confirmed on Monday, an update for Northland will be provided.
Ardern and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced the alert-level plans and the Prime Minister said caution is still required as we reach the peak of case numbers.
Case numbers could be expected to increase as more household contacts were infected, she said.
"I'm also told that compliance [with lockdown rules] is really high...the question now is how long everyone stays [in lockdown]," she said.
The three reasons keeping the rest of the country in level four for a few more days are because it will provide a full two-week cycle, there are cases in Wellington and the positive wastewater result in Christchurch.
More refined wastewater tests are underway.
No regional travel is allowed, except for level four who need to travel for work or someone with an exemption.
No one can travel from one level to another without an exemption. Police will enforce boundaries when south of Auckland moves to level 3. The same boundary used in February will be used again.
MBIE will be open for applications from Sunday for people who need exemptions to cross boundaries for work.
Friday saw a new record number of daily cases declared, with 70 recorded on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in this outbreak to 347.
What level 3 means
Level three allows us to give businesses and others more freedoms but contact with others needs to remain limited, she said.
"We want you to limit contact as much as possible," Ardern said.
She said takeaways can only be operated through contactless methods.
"We want you to limit contact as much as possible."
Public venues remain closed. Groups of 10 for weddings, funerals and tangi are allowed.
Masks are still mandatory on all public transport and it is encouraged to wear one in public spaces as you can.
PM says lockdown is working
"What I would say to Auckland and all of New Zealand is what you are doing is working", Ardern said.
"Already we are seeing those signs of what a difference lockdown is working."
Bloomfield said we won't necessarily need to see zero cases in order to consider moving Auckland down a level.
Experts urged caution
Most experts believe the latest outbreak could drag on for some time.
Experts today urged 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.
The fact they were all contained in their bubbles and there had been no spread was reassuring, Baker said.
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."
There are some shoots of hope.
Bloomfield has said the numbers this week show the growth in cases is not exponential.
That means while the number of new cases is increasing each day, cases are not exploding.
"The good thing about this is while this is a steady growth, it is not exponential," Bloomfield said, updating case numbers this week.
"We do know that our actions to slow and spread the virus will begin to see a slowing of those numbers increasing. And, indeed, the fact that the rate of increase is not exponential is explicitly because we have alert level 4 in place," he said.
However the enormous number of contacts in this outbreak is testing the small army of contract tracers, which is soon expected to number 1200.
As of this morning of the 629 "close plus" contacts, 85 per cent had been contacted, 63 per cent have had results - 15.6 per cent tested positive.
Of the 24,541 close contacts, 68 per cent have been contacted, 75 per cent have results and just 0.3 per cent have tested positive.
And of the 1,235 casual contacts, 47 per cent had been contacted, 69 per cent have had results, none of which were positive.
The latest outbreak has so far claimed no fatalities. Nineteen of the current community cases are in a stable condition in hospital; one of the 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.
There are also signs of optimism with the nation's vaccine rollout, which has broken multiple records this week - although New Zealand's rate of vaccination remains well behind the rest of the world.
There were 90,757 jabs administered yesterday.
Of these, 65,541 were first doses and 25,216 were second doses making it the biggest daily total to date.
More than 3.11 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given so far and of those, 2 million were first doses and more than 1.1 million were second doses.
Public health guidelines
- Stay home
- If you have to go out make sure you wear a mask
- Stay in your bubble and reduce contact with others
- Act as if you have Covid-19 and as if others around you do to
For more information visit covid19.govt.nz.
This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.