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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 Prime Minister Jacinda 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.
Director general of health Ashley 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:
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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.
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 added that level 4 needed to be in the toolkit in case things started to go “pear-shaped”.
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.”
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