Covid 19 Delta outbreak: When Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson expects restrictions to lift in Auckland

* ‘It feels like we’re the guinea pigs’: Some students nervous about return to school
* Inside the Te Awamutu cluster – epicentre of the Waikato spread
* The 90% Project: How to enable vaccination in key populations
* Derek Cheng: Hundreds of cases now self-isolating. Why can’t vaxed travellers do the same?
* Gangs may hold key to vaccination success

The Government has firmed up the timeframe it expects Auckland to move to the new traffic light system – and new freedoms.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson confirmed today officials expect Counties Manukau to hit the 90 per cent first vaccination target within the week – meaning second doses across Counties Manukau and the region’s two other DHBs should be complete by the end of November.

He said there would be no wait period after the second vaccination for the traffic light system to be implemented – and told the AM Show he expected vaccine certificates would be up and running in November.

Jabs tank over the weekend, cases expected to rise

A long weekend and unsettled weather may have put Aucklanders off getting vaccinated – and an expert is tipping cases to jump “quite a lot higher” in the coming days.

Fewer than 8000 Aucklanders got a jab on Sunday and only small numbers turning up to two special events yesterday.

Based on the most recent figures available 90 per cent of the region’s eligible population has had a first dose, while 77 per cent were fully vaccinated as of Sunday night.

Broken down by regional DHBs Auckland city is sitting on 93 per cent for first doses while Waitematā is on 90 per cent and Counties Manukau is on 88 per cent.

In terms of second-doses, Auckland DHB sits on 81 per cent, Waitematā on 76 per cent and Counties Manukau 73 per cent.

While Monday’s figures won’t be available until today, Sunday’s numbers did little to help Counties Manukau where only 695 people turned up for their first jab. That left another 11,728 people needing to be vaccinated before reaching the 90 per cent target for first doses.

The low numbers come as 109 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded yesterday, four of which were in Waikato and two in Northland. The remainder were in Auckland.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said we can expect to see Covid community cases getting higher over the next few days.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it…the outbreak is growing and it’s really clear that level 3 is not enough to contain Delta and we’re seeing that in the Waikato.”

Testing rates over long weekends also tended to be very low, she told TVNZ Breakfast.

“So we should expect probably case numbers to get quite a lot higher in the next few days.”

She said it was very clear that the majority of people getting the virus and particularly those being hospitalised are those who are unvaccinated.

“As we’re seeing around the world, this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Wiles told the Breakfast programme that we need to be wary about those community cases growing even more and the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed as a result.

“If our hospitals become overwhelmed, it’s not just people with Covid who suffer, it’s everybody – operations, people with strokes and all those kinds of things. We need to protect everybody.”

It was better then to make moves to prevent that from happening – rather than reactionary moves when or if that happened.

Wiles said as well as vaccination, people should still wear a mask. Good ventilation in buildings such as school classrooms were also going to help limit the rate of transmission, she said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said bad weather and a long weekend were likely the reason for lower vaccination rates but that it was reflected in most parts of the country.

With the virus spreading in the community and rising case numbers, Goff said it is “critical” to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Robertson on traffic light system and vaccine certificates

Robertson told the AM Show that he did not accept analysis that the Government was dividing the country.

Robertson said they had people right around New Zealand who were a bit hesitant and they were now working with them. If people chose not to be vaccinated they would still be able to access goods and services, they would just be a little bit more limited, he said.

Robertson said the details of the vaccination passport was progressing really well and the thing that was holding up the traffic light system was reaching the 90 per cent target.

They were working towards dates in November to release the vaccine certificate regime and it would be ready when the targets were reached. Worst case would be they could use a paper-based system for a short time if needed.

Robertson said they needed all the DHBs to be vaccinated, but it doesn’t stop at 90 per cent because they need as many people vaccinated as possible. For those who wanted to leave the super city, the Government did want to facilitate Aucklanders being able to leave over the Christmas period and was still looking at how they could let people who were double jabbed and had a negative test through.

“The best thing we can do is get the rest of New Zealand up to the 90 per cent level and then the freedom of movement is available to all of us.

Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB said they had to make sure they got the percentage of New Zealanders that meant everyone would be safe and considered it was a “balanced approach”, also targeting people in smaller, hard to reach towns.

Robertson declined to agree with Hosking’s claim that New Zealand was now being held hostage by the “thick and lazy” who were not vaccinated.

Put to him that people have had all year to get their vaccination, Robertson said there were still hesitant people. In the meantime people made sure they kept themselves healthy. “It’s a balance, Mike.”

There were a large number of people who were on at him to reach 95 per cent rate instead of 90 per cent.

As for an incentive to get the vaccine, the person would be eligible to go to large gatherings and other events.

The Government would check in on the new framework on November 29 and see which areas had reached 90 per cent, including the South Island.

Asked if the entire country would be held to ransom for Tairawhiti DHB, which was languishing in last place, Robertson said we were a whole country and that if we moved we all move forward together. That would then put the country in a better position than what it is in level 3.

“We are all in this together.”

He said it was their goal to get 90 per cent. If they didn’t, Robertson said they would look at that at the end of November and there were the options of localised lockdowns if needed.

As for home MIQ and why people who were vaccinated were being put in MIQ, Robertson said not everyone stayed in Auckland, and more would be announced in “coming days”.

The Government had enough boosters to get started now and they were ordering more but they were just waiting on health advice.

Asked how much money Māori had been given, Robertson said that was $120m and then roughly $20m-$30m for supporting whanau ora groups. “Māori vaccination rates need to lift and they have been.”

As for what it’s spent on, Robertson said mobile clinics, access to vaccines, and to allow health authorities to get out and work with the community groups.

He said it was working but when asked about the return of the money, Robertson said $60m was only announced

Robertson told Breakfast the overall reaction to the traffic light system announced on Friday had been good.

He praised district health boards and areas that had reached the 90 per cent first dose vaccination rate in the Auckland region – and Counties Manukau, which is sitting at 88 per cent.

“We are remarkably close,” he said.

“We want to make sure that we push on to 90 [per cent].”

Robertson called on people who have missed their second vaccination appointment to get it done as soon as possible.

On vaccination certificates, Robertson said they would be important for businesses and events such as festivals – ensuring that everyone there was protected.

“For the good of all of us, we need people to be vaccinated and we also want to give people confidence that when they do go out, that they’re going to be able to know that they are protected not only by their own vaccination, but by others as well.

“So vaccine certificates are a way of being able to show that events are safe and that people can have confidence in going to them.”

That was especially so for festivals and events Kiwis were so used to going to over the summer – which had the potential to be super-spreader events, Robertson said.

He said those places or events that would not require vaccine certificates to be shown would be “very limited” and moves would need to be made to ensure people attending those events were protected still also.

Auckland University epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson told Hosking on Newstalk ZB said he didn’t feel like New Zealand had hit a wall regarding vaccines.

He said they need carrots for the vaccinated and sticks for the unvaccinated.

“This was life and death. This is the biggest catastrophe in public health… this is really, really important.”

Getting a vaccine was a blow to personal freedom but it was worth it.

It’s 560,000 people who are eligible that haven’t been vaccinated and could those people overwhelm our hospitals?

“Our hospitals will collapse”.

No health system could cope with a Delta outbreak, Jackson said Singapore wasn’t coping.
Singapore has created a whole new hospital system. NSW and Victoria are “just holding” with their outbreaks.

The clinicians on the ground there are “freaking out” with the workload.

He said ICU could get bigger but it wouldn’t solve the issues with a Delta outbreak.

In America, the most vulnerable people just “died out” due to Covid.

It’s not just about how many people, it’s who they are and how sick they are and they’re the ones who will overwhelm NZ’s health system.

“This is not North America … this is NZ and we just need to pull out all the stops and get as many people vaccinated.”

Ninety-eight per cent of people in Canberra have had their first vaccine.

There were Māori communities around NZ where most were vaccinated.

Asked what we’re not doing, Jackson said every GP surgery should be vaccinated. There’s a lot of people out there that belong to general practices that aren’t vaccinated and money could be invested in that area, too.

The Government last week gave businesses a mandate, every business can now offer “no jab, no job policies”, as The Warehouse Group did.

Jackson said in communities like Tairawhiti, the DHB needed to go door to door otherwise they will be the ones who end up overwhelming hospitals and making it hard for other Kiwis to get urgent surgery for other issues.

School's back

Meanwhile high schools can re-open from today for Year 11-13 students in Auckland.

Howick College principal Iva Ropati said everyone was a little nervous, apprehensive and excited today.

“Students are nervous, staff are nervous about coming back. It’s just a really unusual situation,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast show.

Ropati said the college was only partially opening up to senior students.
“We want no risk.”

They had told students and families that it was optional to come to school.

They were supporting those students who chose to keep learning from home due to various circumstances – including vulnerable people at home and feeling anxious about physically returning to school.

Ropati said they were expecting about 300 students returning today. They were partially opening up because the senior roll reached more than 1000 students.

Papakura High School principal Simon Craggs said the school was opening up fully to senior students today.

He acknowledged that many students in their community had struggled during lockdown, with a low engagement via online learning.

Craggs said teachers would also be trying to give their lessons outside as much as possible – weather permitting.

But there were still parents who felt they were not yet ready to send their children back to school and Craggs said he had received a number of emails from parents expressing those concerns.

“We just want them to come back. We want them to feel safe.

“If they don’t feel safe, stay at home until you do.”

Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Melanie Webber said she was really concerned about senior students heading back to school so quickly and they had been receiving conflicting advice from the Ministry.

The association wanted a clear idea of what the vaccination level around staff and students was before they returned.

“It’s worrying the speed of what it’s happening,” she told the AM Show.

While teachers would be vaccinated, a lot of students were not fully vaccinated. Webber said students returning to school had happened really fast and they couldn’t be sure all schools had clear health and safety plans.

There was a huge diversity to how schools were running during level 3 in Auckland with some going back to normal timetables, some doing it by year-by-year and others deciding to stick to online learning.

Webber said it was very difficult to maintain social distancing at schools and it felt more like level 2 and acknowledged some students were really anxious about catching Covid and then spreading it within their households.

Community-led vaccination events

Auckland University public health professor Dr Collin Tukuitonga said he hoped upcoming community-led vaccination events will draw in people.

“It may be a daily one-off thing and then it will pick up again, we know there is quite a lot of momentum now by Māori and Pacifica communities with people organising events.”

Yesterday two of those kinds of events were held in South Auckland with the aim of increasing Māori vaccination rates. Nearly 200 people attended with the majority getting their first vaccination.

A few of the area’s leading Māori health providers set off from Manurewa marae and hit the streets in Manurewa and Papakura to start an open kōrero around vaccinations.

Clinical director for the Northern Region health coordination centre Dr Anthony Jordan said vaccinations were the added bonus.

“The aim was to encourage unvaccinated whānau to feel comfortable to come out and talk to us so they could make informed decisions about receiving the vaccine.

A vaccination drive-through and walk-in event at Rongomai Park was held in Flat Bush with performances from musicians such as King Kapisi and Che Fu. Around 70 per cent of those who attended the event received their first dose.

As many community events are still being planned, immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu said amazing work has been done by community and health leaders.

“Our Pacific and Māori communities and respective health workforces, have all been doing an amazing job working tirelessly, mobilising and rallying to continue doing the work that’s needed to reach some of the hard to reach in our communities.”

Nationally, just under 19,000 people were vaccinated on Sunday, 5335 for the first time. This compares with 44,750 vaccinations on Friday and 42,482 on Saturday.

Another 144,814 need their first jabs before the country will be 90 per cent partially vaccinated.

Sika-Paotonu said there might be many reasons people haven’t been vaccinated yet.

“I think it would be incorrect to assume those who are yet to receive their Covid-19 vaccine are just all against having the vaccine. What we know is that accessibility issues persist for hard-to-reach communities and more vaccination outreach activities and events that are resourced appropriately are needed.”

A Ngāti Whātua led vaccination event was announced over the weekend and will be held at Eden Park on November 6 and 7.

“Get dotted, dot your lot, dot your sleeve to support, connect your dots, and help our whānau, hapū, iwi and all our communities in Tamaki Makaurau,” the organisers state on their website.

Tāmaki Tū Kotahi is a group of Māori health leaders, kapa haka groups and corporate providers who have all come together Auckland over the 90 per cent line.

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