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Another day of high new cases is tipped with new Covid infections emerging within households where people have tested positive, as the Government weighs up a possible shift in alert level settings for much of New Zealand.
Cabinet is meeting to discuss whether to change alert level 4 restrictions in place until 11.59pm tonight for the country, aside from Auckland. New Zealand’s biggest city is in lockdown until 11.59pm on Tuesday, with the strong likelihood this will extend.
An announcement will be made at 3pm today by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Experts are urging a few more days in lockdown across the country as part of a “cautious approach” to containing the Delta outbreak.
It comes as a record 68 new cases were announced yesterday and an expectation by health officials that daily totals will continue to rise at this early stage of the outbreak. There are now 263 people infected in Auckland and 14 in Wellington.
While the virus has so far been contained to the two main cities in the North Island last night a rest home worker in Warkworth, north of Auckland, tested positive for Covid. It followed revelations earlier in the day that wastewater testing in Christchurch had detected virus fragments though health officials believed this was linked to people in MIQ with the infection.
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Another two schools have been added to the growing list of education facilities impacted by Covid overnight, with the maths department on high alert at Auckland University after a staff member tested positive.
This morning the former Pasifika charter school established by Sir Michael Jones, Pacific Advance Secondary School in Ōtāhuhu, became the 12th Auckland school to report a positive case.
The person was infectious when at school on Tuesday, August 17.All staff, students and visitors on site were considered close contacts.
Last night the Waimahia Intermediate in Clendon Park was added to the list that sits at just under 500 potential exposure sites after a child at the school tested positive.
Students, staff and parents who had been at the intermediate on August 16 between 9amand 3.30pm were asked to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days.
Auckland University students and staff were yesterday alerted to an infection in a staff member in the Department of Mathematics. A number of lecture theatres and rooms in the university’s Science Centre were now locations of interest when the person was on campus while infectious on Tuesday hours before lockdown was announced.It was believed the person contracted the virus through their household rather than from on campus.
Last night the Ministry of Health added a healthcare facility in Māngere and a Superette in Ōtāhuhu as new locations of interest.
This morning one of the Government’s top advisers said he was confident we could stamp out the current outbreak but warned it was going to be tough.
Sir David Skegg said continuing on the lockdown course was the best option to eradicate Delta and if we continued on this track could expect to emerge in a few weeks’ time.
“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,” he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking.
There are currently six epidemiologically linked subclusters within the outbreak and 498 visits to 372 different potential exposure sites.
The two largest clusters are the Birkdale Social Network cluster associated with the Devonport tradesman, with 41 confirmed cases, and a cluster associated with the Māngere Assembly of God church with 117 confirmed cases.
The remaining clusters, including in Massey, West Auckland, have fewer than 15 people associated with them.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said daily case numbers should begin to level out over the next days – and then begin dropping.
Modellers wanted to see the basic reproduction number, or R0 – the expected number of infections in an outbreak generated by one case – fall below 1, meaning the outbreak could be stamped out.
“We had been hoping see that happen by tomorrow, but the lags in testing have probably spread that out a bit,” he said. “Also, we are expecting to see more cases from within households, too – which means we’ll maybe have an extended period where our numbers are flat, rather than declining.
“But I’d hope that, by next week, we’ll be getting a clear signal that we’re below an R0 of 1.”
Experts say any decision on changing alert levels comes with risk, and officials are closely examining the potential for any spread outside Auckland and Wellington, including any contacts of cases still awaiting test results.
More than 24,000 contacts have been identified so far, including hundreds spread across the South Island. For this reason, experts are urging a few more days to reach the 14-day incubation period of the virus.
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.
Skegg today said he was cautiously optimistic New Zealand would stamp out this outbreak – but it depended on the community’s ongoing response.
He said on current progress, he expected the country to emerge from lockdown in a few weeks.
“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.”
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