* Derek Cheng: Lockdown looms for Waikato; Auckland unlikely to get to level 2
* Air NZ announces ban on unvaccinated international passengers
* Truck driver tests positive, locations of interest include Palmerston North Burger King
* Ashley Bloomfield on the ‘heat-seeking missile’ virus, and our most vulnerable regions
* 14yo who wants to be vaxxed caught in stand-off between anti-vax mum and pro-choice dad
Two Delta cases have been discovered in Waikato, the Ministry of Health has announced – and officials have now hastily organised a 1pm press conference, with the Prime Minister hosting.
The new cases have “a number of exposure events” and one expert believes the development will see Auckland’s level 3 period extended – and the level 3 boundary possibly extended to include parts of Waikato.
One of the new cases is in Raglan and the other, a known contact of the Raglan case, is in Hamilton East. The Raglan case was tested on October 1 after feeling unwell.
Their infectious period start on September 27. They are self-isolating at this stage and will be moved to a quarantine facility. Their three household contacts are isolating.
The cases signal the spread of Delta well outside of the Auckland region boundaries – Auckland is in level 3 restrictions while the rest of New Zealand, including Waikato, has been in level 2.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker says the new cases are of huge concern and will likely increase the likelihood that Auckland will stay in alert level 3 for longer.
“We know very little at this stage on how the virus got there, so I think it’s important at this stage to get that initial info and then get the plans under way for a rapid and vigorous response,” Baker said.
He said if the cases were linked to the Auckland outbreak, they could be better managed but it also meant Auckland needed to stay at alert level 3.
“We’re not going to see the full effects of level 3 in Auckland until at least next week, but seeing the virus spilling into Waikato will definitely increase the likelihood of Auckland staying in level 3,” he said.
Baker said he did not see alert levels needing to be raised as a result of the cases, but expected the Government’s response would be similar to when three cases appeared in northern Waikato last month – when the lockdown boundary line was extended.
“At this stage, we need to see what contact tracing will do. It will be highly beneficial for the Waikato if the transmission can be contained and eliminated,” Baker said. “It would be really hard to make a case of moving down alert levels in Auckland.”
There is no official indication yet of any alert-level change for Waikato although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be holding a press conference at 1pm today to provide the latest update.
A press conference was not scheduled for today before the Waikato cases popped up.
The Hamilton East case was tested after becoming unwell, said the Ministry. They are being treated in Waikato Hospital.
A pop-up testing centre will be operating at the Raglan Rugby Grounds car park on Cross St from midday and anyone in Raglan with symptoms is urged to get a test today.
Extra testing in Raglan, Hamilton
The testing centres at the Founders Theatre car park in Hamilton CBD will have additional capacity added today and a pop-up centre at the Claudelands Event Centre will be set up.
There are also walk-in vaccinations available in Hamilton today at the super-site at Te Awa – The Base, as well as other sites around the city.
Potential links with both cases to the Auckland outbreak are being worked through.
A number of exposure events for both cases are in the process of being worked through by public health staff. Any that are locations of interest will be listed on the Ministry of Health website.
At least two people who have called the hospital today have been told it is in lockdown as of this morning.
However a Waikato DHB spokesman said this morning that the visitor policy had not changed and people could still visit their loved ones.
Any changes to visitor policies would be posted to social media and on the hospital’s website.
Currently the DHB’s website says in level 2, two visitors may visit inpatients in most parts of the hospital. Some higher risk wards such as the NICU have stricter visiting policies – these are outlined on the DHB’s website.
School holiday traffic pours into Raglan
School holiday traffic has been pouring into Raglan this morning despite the news of a person in the area testing positive for Covid-19, a pub owner says.
Helen Rowling, owner of the Wharf kitchen and bar, said nothing much had changed in the town despite this morning’s announcement.
Her restaurant was doing a normal Sunday trade with 24 people seated. “Punters are still here, doing the social distancing thing, masks on, all that malarkey.”
They would be waiting for the 1pm announcement to find out what happens next.
The school term ended on Friday, and Rowling said the roads are full of traffic as people headed for their baches.
The people arriving were obviously from outside Auckland – they would not want to be coming into a lockdown situation, she said.
It was a brilliant fishing day and there were “heaps of boats out here catching snapper like you wouldn’t believe”. People were filling up their freezers, she said.
There were questions around how the food chain would work if the town went into lockdown.
Police have been vigilant over the past week, checking in on businesses to ensure they were following level 2 policies such as masking. Her restaurant was visited yesterday afternoon by police.
Everyone had been hoping for a level 1 move tomorrow but level 2 could be “our new norm”, Rowling said.
All travellers to NZ will need to be fully vaccinated
From November 1, all non-New Zealand citizens will have to be fully vaccinated before they’re allowed to travel to New Zealand, Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
“We are introducing the requirement for air travellers aged 17 and over, who are not New Zealand citizens, to be fully vaccinated to enter New Zealand.
“This is an important step in our Reconnecting New Zealand strategy,” Hipkins said in a statement.
Travellers will be required to declare their vaccination status when registering with the Managed Isolation Allocation System, as well as presenting proof of vaccination or a relevant exemption to their airline and to Customs officers once they land.
They will need to have had a full course of any of the 22 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority, with the last dose being at least 14 days before arrival.
It follows Air NZ’s announcement this morning that all international passengers will need to be fully vaccinated from February 1 next year – except for people 18 and younger, and those who can’t take the vaccine for medical reasons.
Hipkins said the 14-day MIQ stay will still be required, and all travellers except those from exempt locations will still need to have evidence of a negative pre-departure test within 72 hours of their flight.
“This requirement will be an interim measure while development continues on the traveller health declaration system, which will introduce the ability to digitally verify the vaccination status of people arriving into New Zealand.”
Cabinet only has to look at Sydney and Melbourne when it weighs up easing restrictions tomorrow for Auckland’s nearly seven-week lockdown.
That’s the view of epidemiologist Rod Jackson, who says just one mystery case of the highly infectious Delta variant of the Covid virus in the community and it will start a fire.
“If there are any mystery cases still out there, they (Cabinet) have to stay there. It’s a no brainer. It’s do you want Sydney or Melbourne?” said Jackson.
Across the ditch yesterday, Victoria recorded its highest daily Covid-19 figure on record with 1488 new cases and two deaths. In NSW, Covid numbers continued to fall, but the state still recorded 813 Covid cases and 10 deaths.
There were 27 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases yesterday, all in Auckland, of which 22 have been linked to known clusters, leaving five unlinked cases.
Yesterday’s figures bring the total of unlinked cases in the past fortnight to 10.
At Friday’s 1pm update, director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said about 35 more new cases could emerge in the coming days among household contacts.
In the past week there has been a huge fluctuation of daily case numbers; eight were recorded on Tuesday, followed by 45 on Wednesday.
Counties Manukau DHB also advised the Ministry of Health of a possible exposure event at Middlemore Hospital on Friday night.
Jackson and two other experts, Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank and epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker, do not support moving Auckland from level 3 to level 2 restrictions at this stage.
Baker said it was difficult to imagine moving down to level 2 in Auckland this week because not enough is known about the level of containment in level 3 yet and that will not be known until the middle of the following week.
“For a respiratory virus that is spread by aerosols, alert level 2 will put very little pressure on transmission of the virus and you would expect it to start spreading quite widely.
“I would be very concerned if there was a move down to alert level 2 at the moment,” said Baker.
Plank said moving to level 2 at this stage would be very dangerous with an uptake in mystery cases yesterday and another mystery case at Middlemore Hospital.
“There are signs we haven’t got this outbreak fully contained at level 3…moving to level 2 now would really just add fuel to the fire and there would be a real danger we could lose control of the outbreak,” he said.
Plank said Cabinet will be weighing up a range of factors tomorrow, including the economic implications, but had to remember having an uncontrolled outbreak is not good for the economy, particularly if it means going into strict lockdown.
On Friday night a person presented to Middlemore Hospital’s Emergency Department seeking treatment for issues unrelated to Covid-19, said the Counties Manukau DHB.
“The patient answered no to all screening questions but, while in triage, clinical staff noted the patient was displaying a Covid-like symptom and took steps to investigate, isolate and test.
“The patient subsequently returned a positive Covid-19 result and was moved to a Covid-19 isolation ward at Middlemore Hospital.
“The patient was wearing a mask at all times in ED. All staff were wearing appropriate PPE and as such no staff members are required to stand down.
“Counties Manukau Health’s Infection Prevention and Control team are working with the Auckland Regional Public Health Service to identify potential contacts.”
Middlemore Hospital chief medical officer Pete Watson told the Herald that there had been a “steady stream” of Covid-positive patients arriving at the hospital with unrelated health conditions.
Covid-19 Response minister Chris Hipkins said earlier this week that high numbers of cases did not necessarily mean Auckland could not move down alert levels.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously signalled the Auckland boundary would remain in place if the region moved to alert level 2 next week.
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