Auckland has seen a surge in Covid cases with 94 reported today – the highest daily number since the pandemic arrived in this country in March last year. A total of 87 are in Auckland and seven in Waikato.
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The Prime Minister says Aucklanders shouldn’t hold off on booking Christmas trips as the Government prepares to reveal how it will deal with Covid-19 in New Zealand’s largest city.
Jacinda Ardern told the AM Show this morning the Government was working towards all restaurants and bars being open by Christmas.
“Certainly that would be our hope based on those current trends.”
Ardern said roughly 5 per cent of people who had got their first dose were not getting their second dose so they needed to make sure people were getting both.
Ardern said on Friday there would be a lot more specific details about what Aucklanders could expect in the future and what they needed to do to get there.
“We don’t want Auckland to live week by week and that’s what they have been doing up until now.”
She said the Government needed until Friday so they could finalise the detail.
She said the new framework included vaccine passports and it was not just about Auckland, it was about the whole country.
Her advice to those in Auckland wouldn’t necessarily be not to book flights or accommodation for Christmas yet. Ardern said they were trying to balance the need for families to be reconnected with the rest of the country, while ensuring the rest of the country was kept safe during a pandemic.
Some of the options they were thinking about were whether people could cross the Auckland border if they had two jabs and a negative test.
For Kiwis stuck overseas, they had a vaccination requirement for everyone with the exception of citizens and were also looking at shortened MIQ stays and self-isolating at home especially for those who were double jabbed.
Ardern said there are still about 20,000 people in Auckland who have not had their first Covid jab – and which would get the city up to that much wanted 90 per cent vaccination target.
She said the R value had been “quite bumpy” and changeable of late.
Keeping case numbers low while people are still getting vaccinated, was vital right now.
A contributing factor to case numbers recently had been as a result of people holding gatherings including parties inside their homes.
Ardern said: “We just need people to continue to follow level 3 [rules]. It’s there to protect you, it’s there to help us get out of restrictions sooner.”
Asked about the Government’s decision not to put Auckland into an alert level 4 circuit breaker, Ardern said although health experts including epidemiologists and scientists were calling for that, public health experts including director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and those on the ground had a different view.
She said that view was that case numbers would not necessarily go down if that circuit breaker went ahead. Compliance was also a big reason.
So the decision was made to continue to call on the public to simply follow the current alert level 3 rules.
Asked if Auckland would be out of lockdown by Christmas, she said: “Oh, I believe so, yes.”
“But of course, that’s been my absolute focus for a long time. Aucklanders have been doing it tough, they have been carrying a huge load and we need to demonstrate that actually the world can be different with vaccines.”
She said the reason why we have used lockdowns is because that was the only tool we had to fight Covid.
But as the vaccination rate gets higher, Ardern acknowledged that people would start to see some form of normality once again.
Put to her that people in the South Island continued to wonder why they remain in alert level 2 restrictions also, despite there being no community cases there, she said it did not take much for Covid to get into other regions still.
But overall, it was very much a preventative measure.
It comes as Ardern conceded that Aucklanders, who are now facing weeks 10 and 11 in lockdown, needed to be given more information on what happens next.
The Government is set to make a raft of major Covid-19 announcements this week, including more business support, how to reopen schools and new vaccination targets that will see alert level restrictions ease.
The targets – which Ardern has so far rejected for several months – are to ensure there aren’t pockets of unvaccinated people in the community, which could lead to a large cluster and put pressure on the health system.
Bloomfield has previously talked about 90 per cent-plus fully vaccinated as a minimum, which is likely to take Auckland at least a further four weeks.
Once targets are reached, the new traffic light framework will be used, including different rules for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, depending on the level of risk.
How Auckland schools will reopen will also be revealed tomorrow, which health experts say needs to include clear guidance on ventilating classrooms.
• LISTEN LIVE ON NEWSTALK ZB:
* 7.35am: National leader Judith Collins
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning that it was incredibly tough for Aucklanders in general.
The Government had been consulting on its new framework for some time.
He had a sense of “frustration and a range of emotions”. He’d had feedback which included going up and down alert levels.
“We’ve just got to get through this next period .. and the vaccination rates that we need.”
Yesterday was about announcing the alert level change and an indication that there would an announcement of their framework later in the week; the Government was giving an indication of what was coming as there were still consultations taking place.
Asked what the Government has been doing, Robertson said they had been working on the design of the framework. If they had gone out without all the details they wanted to be able to answer all questions on Friday.
As for school details being released tomorrow by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, Robertson said that officials were working with the sector and using the most up to date information in relation to the outbreak.
As for what was so special to be announced on Friday, that couldn’t have been drummed up nine weeks ago. Robertson said if they went back 20 months, Covid had evolved.
It wasn’t just business support but how the vaccination target was going to work and an overall package; something to announce all at once.
The Government was now offering more than $4b in business support, and he noted that they had successfully given out money efficiently in the past.
The fear was that they would hold the country in lockdown until everyone was vaccinated, but Robertson said if you had 90 per cent as a general target there could still be areas that are not vaccinated.
Told it was like holding the rest of the country to hostage, Robertson understood the feeling but the health system did need to be able to cope with a Covid outbreak. “What we’re doing is making sure we limit the impact … in a careful way.”
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland – without a booking
National Party leader Judith Collins told Hosking said this Government was the least trusting, most secretive, least-competent ever to be in power.
She asked for Ardern to go to Auckland and get a feeling of the resentment of locals.
Collins said National had a plan; they were releasing their economic plan tomorrow. There were businesses now on their knees and she said many would be thinking where Robertson can stick his resilient economy.
When Robertson talked about surge capacity, in the first 6 weeks of lockdown there were 85,000 procedures cancelled by the Government in case there was an outbreak.
Even the vaxathon, which was deemed a great success, was only needed because they acted so late and needed to quickly get the numbers up.
“Aucklanders in particular … who has to go work in a business who is dependent on money coming through the door is losing out.”
Asked about there being an ethnic twist in the vaccinations, Collins said you couldn’t break it up by ethnicity, National had the best vaccination rates when they didn’t let DHBs break it up by DHBs. They had instead given them targets.
Just 20 per cent of New Zealanders were fully vaccinated at the start of the new outbreak; a sluggish start as the Government didn’t have the supply and refused to let people use their pharmacist and GP to get their jab, Collins said.
Māori Party leader Rawiri Waititi said they were among those with concerns that advice about a level 4 circuit breaker was not taken on board by the Government, given the low vaccination rates among Māori.
He was among those who favoured Auckland moving back up to an alert level 4 and the rest of the country into level 3 until the current outbreak was brought under control.
Part of that wish was also to control any further “leaks” of Covid from Auckland into other parts of the country – as seen in cases that have shown up in the Waikato region and Northland.
“As you can see, numbers are rising. And so we have grave concerns about the health of Māori because we are the most unvaccinated at this particular time.”
Waititi said there were concerns for smaller communities with a high Māori population around the country.
Some iwi had started to fundraise for their own vaccination buses or vans to transport members of the public to get them to vaccination centres.
Waititi said the Government’s current vaccination roll-out was “mono cultural” in that it was based on age groups.
“Our people don’t move as age groups. Our people move as whānau.”
Waititi went on to compare the Government’s alert level system to the Squid Game Netflix series – a series based on people playing children’s games but with deadly consequences.
“The alert system that we have at the moment to get rid of elimination [and then] go to a traffic light system, seems like a New Zealand version of Squid Games, where you get the green light red light.
“And because our people are mistrusting of the Government, many are afraid it’s going to be those ones that will pay the biggest price.”
Yesterday Cabinet decided it was too risky to ease level 3 restrictions in Auckland for at least a further two weeks – a move welcomed by epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker as “suitably cautious”.
And while no sign of the virus in Northland means the region will move to level 2 from tomorrow, six unlinked cases have kept Waikato in level 3, with ministers reviewing that setting on Friday.
“Northland looks like it dodged a bullet,” said Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy.
He said if case numbers in Auckland plateaued in the coming weeks, levels would then start to drop if vaccination rates continued to increase.
But he told the Herald that level 4 needed to be in the toolkit in case things started to go “pear-shaped”.
Hendy told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme this morning that daily community cases could reach triple digits soon is still “on the cards” according to what they are seeing.
But he said the ongoing vaccination programmes are still key in helping to keep case numbers down.
Hendy said there is now a worry among experts about the capacity to treat people with Covid in hospitals – as well as the pressure on hospitals and the health system in general.
“We’re watching the number of unlinked cases grow, for example, which is telling us that our contact tracers are really struggling to stay up with the edges of this outbreak.”
Then case numbers could accelerate, he said.
Hendy said they expected to see more vaccination numbers to start to bring community cases down by the first couple of weeks of next month.
They then expected the Government to look at taking Auckland out of alert level 3.
“On the other hand, if we see this more rapid growth, if we see cases getting way ahead of our contact tracers, then this is really going to push this outbreak into the Christmas period, unfortunately.”
Hendy said he was still “hopeful” that Auckland could control Covid by Christmas. But it really depends on those community cases.
Even if the situation did come right by that time, people needed to remember that there could still be cases of Covid in the community and so people should keep that in mind while celebrating with family and friends.
That could mean having conversations with family and friends who remain unvaccinated.
Auckland had 57 new cases yesterday.
Ardern stressed the need for Aucklanders to keep following the rules because the virus was all over the city.
“We now have cases in 124 suburbs – they are across the entire geographical spread of Auckland,” she said.
“That means everyone, especially those who are unvaccinated, continues to be at risk of getting the virus regardless of what suburb you live in.”
She gave a clear indication that level 4 remained in the toolkit, but Cabinet had followed the advice of Auckland public health teams that it would “not necessarily” see a drop in case numbers.
But Aucklanders needed an idea of the pathway out of lockdown.
“We cannot ask people to live week by week, not knowing when things will change, or how to help things speed up. We know that needs to change. And we have a plan on how.”
She will reveal the traffic light system on Friday, though it may not come into force for several weeks or even months.
A draft version of it has been criticised by public health experts as not fit for purpose, while the national iwi chairs forum said it had equity issues.
“Māori and Pacific vaccination rates have to increase to the same level as other New Zealanders, otherwise the infection and mortality rate will disproportionally affect our vulnerable communities,” said pandemic response group chair Lisa Tumahai.
Ardern wouldn’t say if the targets would cover the same groups she identified in her plan to start reopening the borders: The vulnerable – including Māori and Pasifika as well as the 65s and over – young adults, and the regions.
Friday’s version would be different to the draft version, she added.
Only 66 per cent of Māori have had one dose of the vaccine and 45 per cent have had two, far lower than the national averages of 85 per cent and 66 per cent.
Māori health advocates have taken to crowd-funding more than $120,000 for a mobile vaccination clinic in Tairāwhiti – which Ardern said should never have been necessary.
“Not one region in this country should rely on a fundraising campaign,” Ardern said.
Meanwhile, with at least two more weeks for Auckland at level 3, the Greens called for an increase in food grants as well as a freeze on rents.
Auckland businesses also needed more help, Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said.
He has previously asked the Government to consider widening the criteria for the wage subsidy, as well as adding a scheme for a grant that wouldn’t need to be repaid if certain criteria were met.
“There’s very little financial and emotional resilience left in some areas of the business community in Auckland,” Hope said.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the wage subsidy and resurgence support payments had been a “drop in the bucket”.
“Many have taken out loans from last year. They are on their knees.”
She said businesses needed to be shown a pathway to level 2 as much as they needed support to cover their costs.
National Party leader Judith Collins said Ardern had made another announcement about an announcement – and this one was about a target that she had previously rejected the need for.
“National has been pushing for formal targets for months now,” Collins said.
“But Aucklanders need clarity now and shouldn’t be forced to wait for yet another podium announcement on Friday.”