Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Government can’t afford to rule out level 4 return – modeller Shaun Hendy

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The Government can’t afford to rule out a possible return to level 4 – just in case things start to go “pear-shaped”, an expert warns.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today gave a glimmer of hope for those in lockdown, suggesting that Christmas plans should remain in place as the Government prepares a new Covid-19 response framework that would include more freedoms for those who are vaccinated.

But Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy says that level 4 needs to be in the toolkit just in case.

In a best-case scenario, numbers in Auckland would plateau in the coming weeks, and levels would then start to drop if vaccination rates continue to increase, he said.

But Hendy also told TVNZ it is “still on the cards” that daily community cases could reach triple digits soon, according to what they are seeing.

Asked about Christmas plans while appearing today on morning TV programmes Breakfast and the AM Show, Ardern expressed optimism that lockdowns would be a thing of the past by then.

“Certainly that would be our hope based on those current trends,” she said.

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 there would be a lot more specific details on Friday 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.”

Traffic light system 'NZ's version of Squid Game'

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi is already rubbishing the yet to be unveiled “traffic light” system, comparing it to popular Netflix horror series Squid Game.

“…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,” he told Breakfast of the plan.

“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.”

He is among those calling for Auckland to return to alert level 4 and the rest of the country into level 3 until the current outbreak is brought under control.

Circuit breaker needed?

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.

Robertson senses frustration

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.”

Collins smashes 'least-competent' Government

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.”

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