There are 173 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today.
Of those cases, 154 are in Auckland, 15 are in the Waikato, one is in Northland, two are in the Bay of Plenty and one is in Lakes DHB. There is also a case in Canterbury but who was already in isolation.
The majority (92) of today’s cases are linked to the outbreak, with the remaining 81 are yet to be linked.Sixty-one cases from yesterday were infectious in the community while a further 90 had no exposure events.
There are 78 people in hospital including seven in ICU – 75 are in Auckland and three are in Waikato. Of those in hospital, 44 are unvaccinated, 16 are partially vaccinated, 11 are fully vaccinated and three are unknown.
Health staff are now supporting 4058 Aucklanders to isolate at home, including 1070 cases. In the Waikato, health staff are now supporting 129 cases to isolate at home.
There are 6335 active contacts being managed by public health staff. Of them, 66 per cent have been contacted to establish testing and isolation requirement. Seventy-one per cent of contacts have returned at least one test result.
Of the 15 new cases in the Waikato, six are in Huntly, four in Hamilton, three in Te Kūiti, and two in Ngāruawāhia. All cases are linked to the outbreak.
Northland’s one new case is a child who is linked to an Auckland case who has been isolating.
A case in Ruakākā reported yesterday has now been linked to the outbreak. Anyone living in or near Ruakākā with symptoms that could be Covid-19 is urged to get a test.
More than 2 million vaccine passes have now been issued. Other ways to retrieve a pass have also been introduced, including going to certain pharmacies.
Speaking with media, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said the Pfizer vaccine was 90 per cent effective in preventing deaths. She noted the surge in Europe, where many countries were reintroducing public health measures.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said 13 DHBs had now hit 90 per cent first dose coverage of the eligible population.
“These are all fantastic achievements. More DHBs are closing in on the 90 per cent first dose mark,” he said. Only 19,408 more first doses were needed for all DHBs to hit the mark.
Robertson said bookings were now open for booster shots, which will begin from November 29. Healthcare and border workers were prioritised, given they were the first in line. Bookings were also now open for AstraZeneca.
On Monday the Government would say more about the traffic light system areas. The new system will come into force from next Friday.
Robertson said the traffic light framework had public health protections where voluntary town lockdowns shouldn’t be necessary, though if they did happen, it should be consulted on with the local DHB.
Asked if the traffic light rules would be impossible to police, Robertson said he wouldn’t use that language. “They are comfortable with the solution we have with the spot-check approach.”
McElnay said the Auckland boundary was tightly managed, given the “very small” number of cases seeded outside Auckland.
Vaccine mandate widened
After weeks of questions, the Government today confirmed a vaccine mandate would be extended to many police and all Defence Force employees.
Vaccines will be obligatory for all police sworn members, recruits and authorised officers.
Those included in the mandate must get their first dose by January 17, and second by March 1.
Robertson said about 88 per cent of the police force was already vaccinated, but mandating it was also about protecting the public – including the vulnerable – who police encounter on the frontline.
Robertson said initial unwillingness had been overcome in other sectors in health and education and he was confident the same would happen again.
The police union and the Commissioner support the mandates.
“In today’s environment, the community has an expectation that our staff are protected from the virus and are fully vaccinated,” Commissioner Andrew Coster said.
“Our work does not always allow us to stay at arm’s length from the people we deal with and vaccination is the only control that can mitigate the safety risk in those situations.”
Coster said 86.5 per cent of police staff were already fully vaccinated and 92.2 per cent had one dose.
Elsewhere in the public sector, mandates have caused some tension as a minority of staff decline to get jabbed and in some cases are put on paid special leave.
Coster said he didn’t want to lose any staff due to the mandate, and police management would encourage workers to get vaccinated.
Covid document dump
This morning, the Government released documents including cabinet papers and official health memos outlining previously confidential pandemic discussions.
One memo sent last month to director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield showed Covid-19 hospitalisations might not peak until now, late November.
Uncontactable cases presented headaches for the health system when the Delta outbreak intensified in some residential complexes, healthcare facilities and educational centres.
An October 28 memo to Bloomfield showed private gatherings, even of the type allowed during alert level 3, were major drivers of transmission.
One paper about alert level rules showed ministers were told the restrictions had Bill of Rights considerations.
Exactly what those were was not released, because the Government redacted what it was told on the basis it was legal advice.
Asked today about the Govenment’s alleged lack of preparedness for Delta, Robertson said the health system was continuously preparing for outbreaks.
“Mr Roche’s job is to present us with free and frank assessment,” Robertson said. “He’s entitled to his view.”
He said the Government had taken the report to DHBs to continue to improve the response.
“We can say we were prepared because as a country you can see we managed to minimise and slow the spread of Delta.”
New Covid variant
Overseas, concerns are growing about a potentially more transmissible Covid-19 variant emerging in Southern Africa.
In response to the B.1.1.529 variant, British authorities have banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.
The UK clampdown comes soon after New Zealand removed five countries – Indonesia, Fiji, India, Pakistan and Brazil – from the “very high-risk” countries category.
Robertson said today the new variant was a good example of the need to be cautious, but there was no reason at this point to be alarmed about the variant, and there was no evidence it was in New Zealand.
He noted the WHO was meeting tonight to assess it, and the Government was keeping a close watch.
The Government said a travel ban on countries on where the variant was present would depend on public health advice
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said today the eighth round of the wage subsidy was now open.
The sixth resurgence support payment is now also open, he said.
More than $6.2b has been paid out over both support schemes.
National Party turmoil
Today’s press briefing also follows a day of political bloodshed at Parliament, where Judith Collins’ spell as Opposition leader ended.
Collins spent months hammering the Government’s response to the pandemic, and a few days ago warned the new “traffic light” system was a recipe for chaos.
She was dumped as National Party leader yesterday after stripping rival Simon Bridges of his portfolios and dredging up issues related to a lewd remark Bridges made about four years ago.
Intrigue is now swirling as contenders jostle for National’s leadership, with caretaker leader Dr Shane Reti planning to step aside next week.
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