#AceHealthReport – Aug.24: Auckland, where the current #COVID19 outbreak began, will remain in lockdown until at least 11:59pm on Tuesday August 31.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says New Zealand #COVID19 outbreak grows, strict lockdown extended as the strict level 4 lockdown has been extended to 31/08/21 as the country’s outbreak climbs to more than 100 cases as #pandemic strategy in doubt amid #Delta spread
The lockdown for the rest of the country has been extended for four days, with the current settings to be reviewed on Friday.
“The safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
“Six days into the outbreak, we are building a picture of Delta’s spread.
“There remain a number of unanswered questions, and with Delta more certainty is needed.”
New Zealand recorded 35 new cases of community transmission on Monday, with the country’s COVID-19 outbreak total 107.
The outbreak started in Auckland and, so far, 99 cases have been recorded there, while Wellington’s total has increased to eight.
“Of the 107 cases in the cluster, 72 are already epidemiologically linked to other community cases identified in the outbreak,” a Health Ministry statement said.
New Zealand health director Ashley Bloomfield said data that included the ethnicity of new cases would soon be published, but current information suggested Auckland’s Pacific community was over-represented in new cases.
“Over 50 per cent of the cases are of Pacific ethnicity, and [in] the last report I saw none of the cases are Maori,” he said.
Ms Ardern said that trend was likely to continue.
“Unfortunately, because of where the outbreak is currently, the new cases are looking to be predominantly Pacific cases,” she said.
NZ committed to elimination: PM
On Monday, Ms Ardern said it was important for New Zealand to maintain its COVID-19 elimination strategy.
“For now, absolutely, elimination is the strategy, particularly while we vaccinate our people,” she said.
“That’s the way that we have managed to have a larger number of days when we have been without restrictions … and not had our people gravely ill, hospitalised and losing their lives.
“It means getting those cases back down to a point where we can remove our restrictions again and importantly continue with our vaccination program.”
But with elimination the goal, authorities warned cases would “get worse before they get better”.
“We don’t yet believe we have reached the peak of this outbreak,” Ms Ardern said.
Known contacts have been identified right across New Zealand, including throughout the South Island.
“With the head start Delta had, it did manage to create contacts all over the country,” Ms Ardern said.
There are now 13,230 individual contacts identified in the outbreak, with the majority being considered close contacts by the Health Ministry.
“Of these contacts, 6,773 have been contacted by public health staff and are self-isolating and 42 per cent have had a test,” the statement said.
Contact tracers have listed more than 280 locations of interest.
“Of these, 11 locations of interest are in Wellington, a few are scattered across the North Island and the rest are located in Auckland. There are also two flights between Auckland [and] Wellington,” a Health Ministry statement said.
At alert level 4, all New Zealanders are effectively placed under quarantine conditions.
The lockdown settings are some of the strictest in the world and force most businesses, schools and public spaces to close.
Mystery surrounding community spread
The New Zealand outbreak is an interesting example of how difficult it is to contain the Delta variant under even the strictest conditions.
“The [trans-Tasman travel] bubble was closed at the time this occurred and so this just demonstrates how difficult Delta is,” Ms Ardern said.
“With vaccination protocols and testing protocols and all of the constant reviewing of infection protection controls … it just shows that ultimately this is still a very hard virus.”
Last week, New Zealand health authorities identified how the Delta strain jumped the border and made its way to Auckland from New South Wales, but investigations around how it escaped the country’s hotel quarantine system are ongoing.
Genomic sequencing traced the original case identified in the Auckland community to someone who arrived on a so-called red-zone flight from Australia and entered managed isolation at Auckland’s Crowne Plaza hotel.
Now, authorities are focusing on several people who were in a common use area near the lobby of the Crowne Plaza while the traveller from NSW was being processed.
“There is a possibility of airflow between the two spaces,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.
“A total of six people walked in the open walkway while the case was in the lobby, of those four have been identified and three have tested negative and one person is in the process of getting a test.
“There are two people still to be identified, which police are assisting with.”
The arrival of the highly infectious Delta variant “does raise some big questions” about New Zealand’s pandemic response, a minister has said.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the variant “changes the game considerably” and makes existing protections “look less adequate”.
It comes as the country announced a further 21 confirmed cases in the latest outbreak of the virus.
New Zealand had gone six months without a single Covid infection.
The country was praised for its rapid, strict lockdown measures in 2020 which effectively stopped the spread of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly referred to New Zealand has “our team of five million”.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, there have been 3,016 total confirmed cases in the country, and 26 reported deaths.
But authorities recently announced a snap lockdown in certain areas after one man tested positive in Auckland with the Delta variant.
There are now 72 active cases. Seven schools in the city have reported positive cases among students, and the country has also announced six infections in the capital, Wellington.
Officials are now warning that they will probably extend the Auckland lockdown, which is set to expire on Tuesday.
Speaking to the media on Sunday, Mr Hipkins said eliminating the virus inside New Zealand was still the government’s aim.
“The reality though is that a virus that can be infectious within 24 hours of someone getting it – that changes the game considerably,” he told the televised Q+A political talk show on Sunday.
“It does mean that all of our existing protections… start to look less adequate and less robust,” he said, adding that it raises “some pretty big questions about what the long-term future of our plans are”.
“At some point we will have to start to be more open in the future.”
According to the New Zealand ministry of health website, as of Thursday more than 960,000 people were double vaccinated, and nearly 1.7 million had received a first dose, in a population of just under five million.
But critics have questioned the speed of the vaccine rollout. New Zealand has one of the lowest number of fully vaccinated people among the OECD – an international group of countries that are among the world’s most prosperous economies.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Ardern announced that national borders would remain closed until the end of this year. The aim was to vaccination the population by then, she said.
After that the country would move to a new individual risk-based model for quarantine-free travel.
#AceHealthDesk report ……Published: Aug.24: 2021:
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