Covid 19 Delta outbreak: 29 new cases today, including five in Waikato

There are 29 Covid cases in the community today, including five in Waikato – prompting the current boundary to be extended to the south from 11.59pm tonight.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said ministers considered advice on the Waikato boundary and it has been extended to cover Waitomo, including Ōtorohanga.

These areas will come under alert level 3 at 11.59pm tonight.

It is the conventional alert level 3, not the current restrictions in Auckland.

It will be reviewed on Monday and will be in place until then. Further testing will be taken to assess this, Hipkins said.

Travellers will require a Covid test.

Hamilton Airport will be included in this boundary.

Further testing will also be available across the area.

The boundary will be a high-trust model given the number of roads leading into the area. People are asked to carry proof of why they are travelling if they are stopped by police.

Hipkins conceded the Waikato boundary was too big to have police checkpoints at every route.

He relied on people following the rules, which people largely did.

Asked why the boundary wasn’t extended yesterday, Hipkins said there wasn’t time to do it yesterday but it was a decision made out of an “abundance of caution” and the evidence suggested the outbreak was still relatively contained.

He highlighted Te Awamutu as being a location where there had been lots of travel between areas linked to Covid cases.

He didn’t believe the delay in making that boundary decision contributed to further transmission. There are only two cases outside the alert level 3 area.

Hipkins said he was aware there had been some debate on how many gang members had tested positive or involved in the outbreak. He didn’t have specific numbers on exactly how many.

He didn’t know whether the Hamilton index case had gang links and he was reluctant to discuss which cases were associated with gangs and which ones weren’t.

But there was evidence that spread had occurred in gang networks, he said.

On the Government’s work with gangs, Hipkins said it was actually public health teams who were working with them and the feedback was there was a good degree of co-operation with them.

Hipkins thanked Kiwis who were following the rules. He reinforced how he didn’t have time for gangs and some of their activities.

Asked how confident he was that we wouldn’t get Covid for Christmas, Hipkins said we are in a phase where we have to work extra hard to stop the virus spreading.

Only 3 per cent of cases in the current outbreak have had the vaccine, Hipkins noted.

There are still people who are waiting the virus out instead of getting vaccinated, particularly in rural communities. Hipkins implored those people to get a jab, as Covid would not wait to enter these communities.

He sent a message to parents who were waiting to get their children under 12 vaccinated to get the jab so they would reduce the odds of passing it on to them.

Hipkins said it would give some insights into what populations are not as vaccinated as others.

In feedback, it wasn’t that people were anti-vax, it was that some people believed they didn’t need a vaccine.

For doctors spreading misinformation in areas like Northland, Hipkins said the Medical Council had issued clear guidance on this.

Public health director Dr Caroline McElnay said the council has encouraged reporting any doctors who were spreading misinformation.

Asked about mandatory vaccination for travellers crossing the level 3 boundary, Hipkins said this would be considered on Monday by Cabinet.

However, there was practicality considerations around that decision.

Hipkins said consultation was ongoing with the health workforce on mandatory vaccination – such whether it included lab staff – but Cabinet would make that decision. The health workforce and education workforce would also be discussed on Monday.

Two cases in MIQ today

There are also two cases in MIQ to report today, McElnay said.

Seven of Auckland’s new cases are yet to be linked. All Waikato cases are linked.

Of yesterday’s cases, only one is unlinked.

There are 10 active subclusters in Auckland, down from 12 yesterday. The two previously active are now dormant.

There are 23 people in hospital, including four in ICU or HDU wards.

It’s a drop from 32 from yesterday.

Of yesterday’s cases the Ministry of Health said 28 of the 39 people were infectious in the community and had exposure events linked to their movements.

There were now 15 epidemiologically linked subclusters in the outbreak. Five were active, two were contained and eight were dormant. There were also 14 epidemiologically unlinked subclusters with five considered active, one contained and eight dormant.

Of those in hospital, 11 were in Auckland City Hospital, 11 were in Middlemore Hospital and one person was in Waikato Hospital.

There had been no unexpected detections of Covid-19 in wastewater across the North Island.

The ministry said as expected Covid was detected in samples collected from Raglan on October 4 and 5 and further testing was under way.

There was also a positive test returned from the water in Palmerston North where a person who tested positive was isolating.

The ministry said there were still eight suburbs of interest across Auckland that included Clover Park, Māngere, Favona, Manurewa, Mt Wellington, Henderson, Papakura and Red Beach.

McElnay encouraged people in suburbs of interested to get tested. Over 1200 people in Red Beach had been tested.

There 6480 tests taken across the Waikato.

At Waikato Hospital, all 50 ED staff have returned negative tests. Six ED staff have been identified as close contacts and are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Govt approves rapid testing pilot

The Government has greenlit a pilot scheme that will allow businesses to use rapid antigen testing.

Rapid antigen testing has not been approved to use in New Zealand, beyond a small pilot scheme at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital. The tests will also be used within the next few days at Auckland City and North Shore hospitals, and be used as a point-of-arrival test in the self-isolation pilots.

The Government has been previously sceptical of rapid antigen testing, noting it had poorer sensitivity than conventional testing and was inconsistent with the Government’s elimination strategy.

Associate Minister of Health and Research, Science and Innovation Ayesha Verrall said the Government’s position had changed.

“As more people gain protection through vaccinations, our toolbox is changing. Testing is critical in identifying cases quickly and responding effectively to any outbreaks, and we want to harness testing innovation amongst the business community to boost our public health response,” Verrall said.

Covid case visited Auckland City Mission

Meanwhile the Auckland City Mission has been linked to a person with Covid-19.

The mission, on 23 Union St, in Auckland central was visited by a person with the virus three days ago.

They were there on Monday from 9am to midday.

Anyone who was there at the same time is being urged to self-monitor for any Covid symptoms for 14 days after being exposed.

If symptoms start to show, get a Covid test immediately.

A spokeswoman for the Auckland City Mission said they had been advised by Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) that the risk of transmission was low.

She said the person who has tested positive was outside in a socially distanced queue, waiting for testing at the time of their visit.

“The risk to others at this stage is low and the ARPHS has advised us as such.”

She said the City Mission had been following Ministry of Health advice prior to being named as a location of interest, which included regular surveillance testing of staff.

Tributes for church member who succumbed to Covid

Members of the Assembly of God Church of Samoa are speaking to media after the death of one of its deacons, which was announced yesterday.

First lady Rebekah Toleafoa said the man whose death was reported yesterday was a deacon at one of its Manurewa church branches.

He had served as a deacon for about 10 years.

Toleafoa encouraged people to get vaccinated.

It was hard to know one of their members caught up in the Auckland cluster had succumbed to the virus.

“After everything that’s happened…386 members have been affected by this virus.”

She said that had pushed a lot of their members to go and get vaccinated.

She said of the virus: “It’s real.”

On getting vaccinated, she said: “Get up and go do it.”

She said many of the man’s family still did not know he had died and church leaders were supporting the couple’s five children.

“He’s a lovely father of five and a dedicated deacon in the Manurewa AOG where he had served over 10 years.

“It’s been really hard now we’ve had this death in the church cluster,” she said.

She added that 386 people connected to the church had fallen ill with Covid.

Toleafoa, as well as church spokesman Jerome Mika, acknowledged and thanked the community for their support of church members.

They also thanked those health providers who had helped people caught up in the cluster outbreak.

“It’s been pretty hard – both him and his wife.”

Mika said they could not give the man’s name, given not everyone in the extended family knew he had died.

Toleafoa was at the mass vaccination clinic at the Vodafone Events Centre, in South Auckland, yesterday when she got the devastating call.

“I found out yesterday. I got a call about it,” she said, before becoming overwhelmed.

“Because it came from our cluster, it was shocking,” she cried.

Rapper Brother D, who has also been supporting the church, said the man’s children were
“scrambling” at the moment, following their father’s death and their mother still in hospital.

“It’s really hard,” he said.

39 Covid cases yesterday

Yesterday there were 39 new cases, including 30 in Auckland and nine in the Waikato – but only one was unlinked. There was also the second death from this outbreak.

McElnay said that at least 36 more cases were expected in coming days, given the number of close contacts of known cases.

With cases now in Hamilton, Raglan, Cambridge and Kawhia epidemiologists and Doctors Stand Up for Vaccination are warning Kiwis are going to have to have to learn to live with Covid with most exposed to a case by Christmas.

Chris Hipkins said that “quite a number” of cases were connected to gangs, and two gang leaders – Sonny Fatu and Harry Tam – had been given travel exemptions to be in Auckland to encourage testing, vaccinations and cooperation with contact tracers.

This morning Waikato Mongrel Mob spokeswoman Louise Hutchinson said Fatu had helped contain the number of cases.

“As of Monday, the cluster that we had in our Mongrel Mob Pasifika chapter in South Auckland has resolved because of the intervention of Sonny,” she told RNZ.

“We had every member tested, ever member of their whānau tested and from that, that cluster has now resolved.”

Cases also popped up in the small, vulnerable and relatively low-vaccinated communities of Kawhia and Cambridge, though the source of infection is known and the Government hasn’t raise alert levels in those areas.

An update is also expected on the essential worker in Whangarei who had had a weak positive test.

The worker was tested on Monday as part of surveillance testing and was asymptomatic, then weak result positive result came back today.

Yesterday Aucklanders started being able to enjoy outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people between two households, as well as socially distanced outdoor exercise classes of up to 10 people with no household limit.

The Government had to clarify the rules, having changed them multiple times before the first day of level 3 step 1 started.

Later this afternoon data is expected to be released about which suburbs are the most unvaccinated, ahead of next Saturday’s National Day of Action push to get people vaccinated.

The rapid antigen testing is being trialled at the ED in Middlemore Hospital, and the National and Act parties has been calling for it to be rolled out to help with the surveillance testing in Auckland’s suburbs of interest and at the city’s boundary.

The result of a test can be returned within 15 minutes, but they are not as sensitive as PCR tests – whether by nasopharyngeal swab or saliva testing.

They are considered to be good at detecting acute infection, which may be useful if deployed at the Auckland or Waikato boundary.

They are not so good at detecting early onset infection.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said the tests will be used in New Zealand more widely, though he cautioned that people shouldn’t use them as a substitute for getting vaccinated.

He similarly noted that some people might use Covid-19 treatments, such as the Ronapreve monoclonal antibody cocktail that has been backed by the World Health Organisation, as an excuse not to get vaccinated.

Medsafe is currently considering a Ronapreve application, though National’s Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop has called on the Government to pre-order the treatment, which the Government did with vaccines before they were Medsafe-approved.

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