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A new Covid case has emerged in level-2 Northland, and Whangārei’s mayor says the region is “holding our breath” over whether Delta has spread.
Health officials have confirmed a person who previously returned a “weak positive” test result in Northland had now been confirmed with Covid-19. Meanwhile, two new cases of Covid have also emerged on Auckland’s North Shore.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the top of the North Island was on tenterhooks to see if Covid had spread across Northland after the positive case was confirmed. “We are holding our breath and hoping that we don’t have Covid in Whangārei or Northland,” the mayor told The AM Show.
Mai told Newstalk ZB they were keen to get as accurate information as possible about locations of interest. She believed the case was an essential worker that had travelled to Auckland and back again. She hoped they had been using QR codes so they could be informed of locations.
Meanwhile, the fight to beat the Delta outbreak is not being helped by poor vaccination rates in some of the South Auckland suburbs where cases have continued to pop up, including parts of Māngere, Clover Park, Manurewa, Papakura, and Favona.
Health researcher Dr Rawiri Taonui said Delta had spread at a higher rate among Māori after Auckland dropped down to alert level 3. “It’s spreading into the marginalised periphery of the Māori community – and that’s happened during the second week of the move to level 3 in Auckland.”
Taonui told TVNZ the evidence for that was the number of random cases showing up in hospitals, the rising number of positive cases within gangs, the number of cases in transitional housing and even yesterday’s reported link to the Auckland City Mission.
Asked what he thought the current overall full vaccination rate among Māori was now, he said: “Just over 30 per cent. It’s lower than what the Government says.”
Taonui said a person who is unvaccinated is 27 times more likely to be get infected by Covid, compared to a person who is fully vaccinated. An unvaccinated person is 80 to 90 times more likely to be hospitalised, based on general figures.
For Māori, the chances of being hospitalised after getting Covid-19 are “probably more than 100 times more likely than a fully vaccinated person”.
“They’re really, really serious numbers. With the case confirmed in Whāngārei last night and Delta already in four or five towns in the Waikato, there’s a real risk of Delta moving into high demographic Māori areas with very low rates of vaccination.
“So Northland, the Lakes District, Bay of Plenty, bit further south into the King Country and Taranaki. If we start seeing more than 50 cases a day and then maybe 100, then we’re looking at a very serious situation akin to 1918.
“Akin to 1918 – the Spanish flu – in my opinion. I don’t want to be right, but I think that that’s what the numbers are starting to tell us.”
The developments come as the level 3 boundary in the Waikato was widened from midnight last night to include the Waitomo District, including Te Kuiti, and the Waipā and Ōtorohanga districts.
As a result, iwi border checkpoints have returned overnight, with Taranaki Māori erecting a control point for vehicles passing through the region at the edge of the alert level 2 boundary.
Māori Party MP Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said with alert level boundaries moving Maniapoto Taranaki would be standing up iwi checkpoints at Mokau in partnership with police. They came into force at 11.59pm.
“Covid is getting closer and we are buying as much time as possible to get as many vaccinated and prepared for the next phase of the outbreak,” said Ngarewa-Packer. She urged people to get vaccinated immediately.
New Northland case
The Ministry of Health said that its current assessment is that the earlier weak result combined with the positive result yesterday indicated that the original test was taken in the early stage of the individual’s infection in Northland.
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Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said this would help limit any potential spread of infection from the case. Public health interviews with the case are now under way to confirm their movements.
Locations of interest in Auckland and Northland are expected to be announced today.
“Northland DHB is stepping up its screening at Northland hospitals for visitors and patients and arranging additional testing.Anyone with symptoms should get tested and people in Auckland and Northland should check tomorrow for new locations of interest.
“The DHB is also encouraging vaccination at general practice, pharmacy, Māori health providers and DHB clinics.”
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said she hadn’t been told of any further positive cases overnight or exposure sites across the region. “Like everybody this morning I got up and raced to have a look at the website to see if those locations of interest have been posted yet,” said Mai.
“We anticipate there will be some for Whangārei and additional sites in Auckland. Nothing yet but hopefully before too long we’ll get those so we can all go back in our diaries and see where we’ve been.”
Mai said she hoped the infected person was vaccinated so impacts of the virus would be minimised for them.
She said business owners across the district would be “trembling” at the prospect of tougher measures be imposed due to the case. At the same time, people needed to be kept safe.
“There will be some who will be trembling today and just thinking ‘Oh, no, this could be the last straw’.We trust that with all of the information available the right decision is made. But the most important thing that everyone agrees is we all want everyone to be safe.”
She said this would be accomplished through vaccination. Mai was concerned that there were too many suburbs in her district that had low vaccination rates.
“We’re in pretty good shape but there are still some areas where those vaccinations are low and we hope that those people do the right thing and are booking their vaccine to be protected as well as protect everybody else.”
While Northland remained in a higher alert level setting she urged people across the district tofollow strict social distancing and mask wearing rules, and to get tested if they felt ill.
Vaccination rates in some suburbs of Whangarei are perilously low, with Otangarei recording only 45 per cent of people having received their first dose.
Extended Waikato boundary
There were five new cases in the Waikato yesterday, all of them linked, and 24 new cases in Auckland, seven of which are unlinked.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Waikato boundary extension would have happened earlier if the risk assessment could have been done quicker.
The Waikato level 3 does not include the same outdoor freedoms as in Auckland, and it will remain in place until at least 11.59pm on Monday, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing any changes on Monday afternoon.
She will also reveal if there will be any easing in Auckland’s level 3 restrictions – step 2 allows customer-facing businesses to open – but public health experts have warned that it was too risky to do so next week.
They also warned that the threat of Delta spreading around the country was very real, though the outbreak continued to be relatively controlled for now.
Waipā district mayor Jim Mylchreest said it was a real challenge for the local community, after an announcement that they would join North Waikato areas in alert level 3.
Speaking to TVNZ’s Breakfast show this morning, he said everyone was “pretty disappointed”.
“But obviously we’ve got to try to control the spread of Covid first.”
He said people in the area were very compliant and he was not worried about people trying to get out of the boundary. “It’s really over to all of us to obey the rules, otherwise we’re going to be in this position for a very long time.”
Mylchreest called on members of the community to get vaccinated as soon as possible. “If we want to enjoy the Summer and Christmas with the limited amount of restrictions, we’ve got to get that vaccination rate up.”
North Shore cases
Two people have tested positive for Covid-19 on Auckland’s North Shore, according to a letter from Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
A letter, dated Thursday, was sent to residents, notifying them that two people in Kāinga Ora properties in Beach Haven had tested positive for the virus.
It is unclear whether these cases are in addition to the 24 Auckland cases announced at Thursday’s 1pm press conference by director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay.
Residents and visitors to the area are being classed as casual contacts. They are being advised to watch for symptoms for 14 days (until October 20) and to get tested.
The letter said testing would be available for staff and residents on Sunday, otherwise they were encouraged to visit their closest testing centre on College Rd in Northcote.
The letter also included a code to use when getting tested.
The Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) chose not to comment further, a spokesperson saying its advice was in the letter.
A Kāinga Ora spokesperson said it had been informed of the positive cases associated with the apartment complexes in Beach Haven.
They said all customers had been advised and testing had been undertaken, with further testing efforts organised for the weekend. “Kāinga Ora has arranged further testing and mobile vaccination to be on-site at the weekend.”
Cabinet's big vaccination decision
Chris Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, said Cabinet would decide on Monday which health and education workers would need to be vaccinated in order to go to work.
“Cabinet will make a decision about exactly where those kinds of lines get drawn on Monday,” he said.
“Does it [for example] include laboratory staff, for example, who are processing samples, and who are actually pretty critical to the overall functioning of the health system?”
Up to about 100,000 teaching staff might be included in a mandatory vaccination order.
There is some support for mandatory vaccinations in those sectors, but the NZ Council of Trade Unions has previously cautioned that a blanket vaccination order could do more harm than good because it might create a sense of coercion.
Ardern visited Murupara and Rotorua yesterday to encourage people to get vaccinated, and tomorrow will head to Gisborne and the East Cape – other areas where vaccination levels are well behind the national average.
Areas with the highest, lowest vax rates
The Ministry of Health released vaccination rates by suburb yesterday. Eight of the 10 places with the lowest rates were in the Bay of Plenty and Northland.
The lowest was Murupara, followed by Kawerau Industrial, Otangarei, Waimā Forest, Waingarara-Waimana, Galatea, Raetihi (Whanganui), Omahuta Forest-Horeke, Lake Brunner (West Coast) and Te Teko Lakes.
Low coverage is also prevalent in parts of five of the eight suburbs of interest in Auckland, where cases have continued to pop up.
But Te Whānau o Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere wanted more detail to allow Māori health providers to go door-to-door, and is taking the Ministry of Health to court for the data.
Hipkins said the ministry wanted to share all the information that would help the rollout, but had to comply with privacy laws.
Health researcher Dr Rawiri Taonui says Delta had spread at a higher rate among Māori after Auckland dropped down to alert level 3.
“It’s spreading into the marginalised periphery of the Māori community – and that’s happened during the second week of the move to level 3 in Auckland.”
Taonui said the things that are telling officials that are the number of random cases showing up in hospitals, the rising number of positive cases within gangs, the number of cases popping up in transitional housing and even yesterday’s reported link to the Auckland City Mission.
“That tells us that the spread has gone into the Māori community,” he told Breakfast.
“It’s being disguised under level 3 because many more people are moving around in Auckland and crossing the borders and it places us at huge risk.”
The key to stop the spread, Taonui, said more whānau needed to get vaccinated.
“It’s important to take the vaccine to the whānau, rather than expect the whānau to go to the vaccination centre.”
He said evidence showed there was a higher uptake of the vaccine among Māori where Māori health provider groups were more accessible.
But areas where Māori health providers were not available or easily accessed, there was a much lower vaccination rate among Māori.
Asked if New Zealand was trying hard enough in the fight to beat Covid, Taonui said: “The situation is so potentially really serious that we need to keep trying as hard as possible.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people over the last week and a half and they’re saying ‘We’ve got whānau sitting on the fence’.
“And I’m saying to them: ‘Listen, push them off the fence and make sure they land on the right side’.”
New locations of interest
More Auckland locations of interest linked to people with Covid-19 have been released by authorities this morning:
* Super Liquor Mt Wellington: 14/295 Penrose Rd, Mt Wellington
* Sonny Bakery Ormiston: 1 Bellingham Rd, Flat Bush
* Countdown Lynnmall: 3058 Great North Rd, New Lynn
* Village Kebab: 1/423 Titirangi Rd, Titirangi
* New World Green Bay: 64 Godley Rd, Green Bay (twice)
* SuperValue Titirangi: 429 Titirangi Rd, Titirangi (three times)
* Hollywood Bakery & Cafe: 132 Chapel Rd, Flat Bush
* Chemist Warehouse LynnMall: 3058 Great North Rd, New Lynn
All the new Auckland locations were visited by people with Covid in the last week.
The latest anyone with the virus has been out in the community was two days ago.
Four locations of interest in Auckland have been linked to people who were out shopping in those businesses on Wednesday.
The Super Liquor on Penrose Rd, Mt Wellington, was visited by a person with Covid that afternoon between 12.15pm and 1.20pm.
Another infected person was at the Countdown LynnMall in New Lynn, West Auckland, later that afternoon between 4.05pm and 5.05pm.
Around the same time, a Covid positive person was entering the New World Green Bay, on Godley Rd. The affected time is between 4pm and 4.15pm.
Another case was at the Chemist Warehouse at LynnMall, New Lynn, the same afternoon between 3.59pm and 4.30pm.
Antigen testing trial
Meanwhile the Government announced that rapid antigen testing, which can produce a result in 15 minutes, would be used in the pilot for business travellers heading overseas and isolating at home after they return.
But the testing is already being used extensively overseas, and Professor David Murdoch – chairman of the Ministry of Health’s testing technical advisory group – said there had been a lot of “conservatism” around different kinds of testing while elimination was the strategy.
“We probably missed a few opportunities just to get things out.”
That included saliva testing, which was underused at the start of the Delta outbreak, when Rako Science had capacity to test 10,000 people a day but weren’t being deployed at a time when people were waiting 12 hours for a test.
“Some people gave up and didn’t get tested at all,” said National Party Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop.
“All the while we had a private sector saliva testing provider sitting right there, ready and willing to operate.
“The Government has been too slow. This is something that should have been in place much earlier – likewise with rapid antigen testing. The negligence and incompetence is unconscionable.”
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