• Time slots possible for Aucklanders crossing border in holidays – Hipkins
• One person dies while isolating with Covid at South Auckland address
• Jacinda Ardern unfazed by protesters, vows to ‘continue on’
•Rod Jackson – Soon everyone in NZ will be immunised against Covid-19

Unvaccinated Aucklanders might be unable to leave the city for Christmas if other parts of the country are yet to hit the 90 per cent vaccination target.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the hard boundary around Auckland was protecting parts of the country that were below the target, which are at higher risk if the virus arrived via someone who’d been in Auckland.

“Those borders won’t exist forever, but they’re doing a job for us now while the rest of the country is being vaccinated, so we’ll keep using it for now,” she told ZM.

“If anyone wants to make sure they are able to leave over the summer, that’s another reason to get vaccinated.”

The outbreak is showing no signs of abating, with Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins saying that “pretty much everywhere” in Auckland is a suburb of interest.

Meanwhile a person was found dead while isolating at an Auckland address with Covid-19 yesterday.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) made the announcement at 8pm on Wednesday.

The person was found deceased by a family member visiting them at a Manukau address.

The ministry said the cause of death is unknown and “may have been Covid-19 or some other cause”.

* 7.07am: Australasian Medical Association New South Wales Council chairman Michael Bonning
* 7.37am: Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the death was “tragic news”.

“I really feel for this family and my condolences to them”.

Bloomfield told TVNZ he had no further information to offer on the death but health officials would be working with police.

The death has been referred to the coroner.

Speaking generally, Bloomfield said those isolating at home had daily contact with officials – this included a daily email or a phone call.

There was also “face to face” contact for some, if they required it.

Speaking on the Auckland situation, Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health’s advice had been to stick with the current levels “for a little while longer”.

But he said the ministry was comfortable with the pending move next week, saying retail and larger gatherings would be able to provide for people to keep space from each other.

He said it was “remarkable” that Auckland nearly had 90 per cent vaccinations. He said the “increasing” vaccine rates gave health officials “confidence” a shift down could be handled safely.

In terms of schools, Bloomfield told TVNZ that there was hope that primary schools could be allowed to be opened safely, despite young children not having access to the vaccine.

In terms of children aged between 5-11 getting approval for the Pfizer vaccine, Bloomfield said: “I would like us to roll it out as early as possible”.

But that decision would be made based on how safe it could be, and after Pfizer had made a formal application for its use by New Zealand children.

Bloomfield expected to receive further advice on the issue within the next few weeks.

Police 'running blind'

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the Covid response was always going to rely on the majority of New Zealanders doing the right thing.

Police officers were “running blind as well” as they no longer got told by the Ministry of Health who got Covid and where they were so were turning up to addresses where people may have it.

Police were feeling the pressure and frustration because you expect when there’s something serious at risk in the community the police will respond, but police did not even know who in the community had Covid and can only ask people to isolate.

Cahill told The AM Show that with 700 people in isolation they were relying on people to do the right thing.

Speaking on police vaccination rates, he said they were “still a bit short”.

Cahill said police were very concerned to learn yesterday that the Auckland border is staying up for Christmas.

“It’s a theory waiting to turn into a shambles from what I can see.”

Officers were pretty stretched and running out of steam as they had been manning the border since August.

“I’m not convinced it’s a good idea,” Cahill said.

100 cases yesterday

Yesterday there were 100 cases, 97 in Auckland and three in Waikato, and 58 people in hospital, including three in ICU.

The Auckland boundary will not be needed once every DHB has hit the 90 per cent target, which is when the new traffic light system kicks in.

Until then, even travel for fully vaccinated Aucklanders with a negative test is not guaranteed unless a system can be set up to accommodate 30,000 vehicles leaving the city.

Unvaccinated Aucklanders, however, won’t be allowed to leave the city until the 90 per cent targets are met.

Areas such as Northland, Tairāwhiti and the West Coast DHBs are particularly lagging at the moment, and are not expected to hit 90 per cent until the start of next year – if at all.

Hipkins also told Checkpoint yesterday the Government is considering the option that Aucklanders have an allocated time slot to leave the region over the summer holidays.

The measure would reduce the risk of queues of traffic at the boundary checkpoints, as vaccination certificates are checked.

National Party leader Judith Collins called Ardern “Jacinda the Grinch”.

“The PM should be explicitly clear on whether Aucklanders will be free to travel this summer. People are planning their summers now. Families want to know if they will see each other at Christmas.

“If they don’t know what the situation at the Auckland border will be, many people simply will not plan a family Christmas or summer holiday.”

Act leader David Seymour said Ardern was being “divisive and impractical”.

“The overwhelming majority support vaccination, but there’s growing discomfort about the Government setting people against each other,” he said.

Ardern has given herself some breathing room, with Cabinet reviewing each DHBs’ progress to the 90 per cent target on November 29.

Cabinet will look at moving Auckland into the Red setting in the traffic light system, given that its three DHBs are likely to be at or close to 90 per cent by then. The need for the hard boundary will also likely be reviewed.

The South Island may also be moved into the new system, even though the West Coast DHB is unlikely to be close to 90 per cent.

Yesterday Hipkins suggested that the requirement for 90 per cent across the board was also flexible.

“We’ve made a commitment not to leave people behind,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that if people choose to be left behind that we’re going to hold everybody else up because of the choice that they make.”

Ardern said she still wanted fully vaccinated Aucklanders to be able to leave the city for Christmas, but there were practical challenges.

“How do you do that when you have up to 30,000 cars moving at a time?

“It’s not actually about the overall vaccination status of the rest of the country – that’s not what it’s dependent on. It’s on our ability to set up a system that allows people to move safely.”

Ardern has been criticised as divisive for setting out different freedoms for the vaccinated compared to the unvaccinated, though she has defended them as necessary for safety as well as an incentive to get vaccinated.

Her attempts to boost vaccination efforts in Whanganui yesterday were thwarted when 250 protesters showed up at a vaccination clinic.

She decided not to visit, given that it could block access for people trying to get vaccinated. She then abandoned her visit to another clinic in Hunterville.

This followed two individuals interrupting Ardern’s visit to Northland on Tuesday.

She said she didn’t plan to stop visiting communities where vaccination levels were low, where she expected to be met with strong views.

Whanganui has only 81 per cent of its eligible population with one dose, and 69 per cent with two.

There haven’t been any cases in Christchurch since the four cases from two households last week, and director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said those now appeared to be contained.

There were no new cases in Northland, though Hipkins urged those in the Far North to continue to get tested and vaccinated.

Hipkins announced a deal for 4.7 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine for next year – enough to cover two doses for children aged 5 to 11 and a booster shot for all eligible people.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was expecting an application from Pfizer for that age group within two weeks, though it would only be approved following scrutiny from Medsafe, a clinical and scientific group, and then Cabinet.

It’s still not clear if a specific paediatric dose will be needed for those aged 5 to 11. If so, and if approved, they wouldn’t get vaccinated until the supply arrived next year.

Bloomfield said the ministry’s advice on booster shots would be ready for Cabinet’s consideration soon.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said it was good news that the supply for booster shots had been confirmed.

“The effect of two doses is still pretty powerful against severe disease or need for hospital treatment, but a booster shot causes the immune response to shoot up really quickly – higher than it was after two primary doses.

“It increases immunity dramatically, and likely reduces the chances of getting infected.”

She said the rollout for booster shots should be based on risk, which meant allowing Māori and Pasifika greater access because they are more likely to suffer worse health outcomes.

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