A record number of Kiwis have caught Covid for the second day in a row as officials try to balance between granting Aucklanders greater freedoms and protecting hospitals from being overloaded with patients.
Health teams announced 206 new cases yesterday, including 200 in Auckland, four inWaikato and two in Northland.
A third case in Northland was identified later in the afternoon.
Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and the Gisborne region also remain on alert after the virus was detected in wastewater systems, while health teams are urging anyone at a tangi in Porirua led by gang members to get tested.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, meanwhile, said she was not surprised by daily new Covid cases hitting a record high as that matched Government models predicting case numbers.
She also committed to ensuring Aucklanders can leave the city this summer after long months of lockdown.
The Government just hadn’t figured out how to do it in a way that didn’t produce huge traffic jams.
“You have a commitment we will not keep Aucklanders isolated to Auckland during that period,” she said.
“We simply cannot do that.”
The record cases also came as Auckland’s lockdown restrictions are expected to be further eased this week at a time when more than 90 per cent of its eligible residents have had at least one Pfizer vaccine dose.
The Government earlier made its in-principle decision to move the city into what it has called step 2 restrictions within the level 3 lockdown, beginning from 11.59pm on Tuesday.
Cabinet will meet on Monday to make the final call.
That step will allow retail stores to operate using safe distancing and masks, public facilities like libraries and museums to reopen, and outdoor gatherings to increase to 25 from 10.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the move step 2 was likely manageable, but a bigger jump to what’s called step 3 when bars and restaurants open could be “a disaster”.
“If it was just a public health decision, focused on minimising case numbers to minimise chronic effects on survivors, it would be simple, but from a societal view it is more complex. People do want to get on with their lives as much as possible,” Baker said.
The shift in strategies from eliminating Covid to suppressing it meant the Government was now in a “balancing act” as it weighed up granting greater freedoms against keeping cases at levels the health system could manage, he said.
As of yesterday, there were now 73 people are in hospital, up from 69 a day earlier. Seven are in intensive care.
Importantly, yesterday’s record case numbers still fell within “the medium” range as predicted by Government modelling published on Monday, Ardern said.
The numbers also show an increasing “decoupling” of hospitalisations from case numbers, as vaccination levels continue to rise.
Health officials urged anyone at a tangi in Porirua, led by gang members, to get tested.
The tangi related to the Mongrel Mob led to four arrests after it passed through Porirua suburbs on Wednesday afternoon.
However, there are reports a person who had tested positive in Auckland last month had travelled down to Porirua at the end of their 14-day quarantine period.
Health officials said it is unlikely the person was infectious while in Porirua, but they urged people to get tested given the lack of better information.
Meanwhile, a mass vaccination programme aimed at rangitahi aged 12 to 34 in Auckland continues today.
The five vaccination centres known as “gotyadot hubs” will be located at Eden Park and four Kura Tuarua across Tāmaki Makaurau today.
“We’ve got kapa haka, sports and social influencers sharing their thoughts and experiences,” gotyadot spokesperson Pere Wihongi said.
Earlier yesterday, Ardern told TV programme Newshub Nation that it was “a bottom line” for the Government to ensure Aucklanders could move around for summer and Christmas.
“I can say this to Aucklanders. We are not going to keep you trapped over Christmas. It is not right,” she said.
However, she admitted that raised the practical issues of how to allow so many pent-up Aucklanders – perhaps as many as up to 40,000 people -to all move at once.
She would not be drawn on how that would happen – or unequivocally rule out measures such as time slots for Aucklanders to drive across the boundaries, but said officials were working through what measures could apply.
She said flights were less problematic than car travel, but the vast majority of people in Auckland tended to travel by car over summer.
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