Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Two cases in Christchurch including recent traveller from Auckland

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Two positive cases of Covid have been reported in Christchurch.

The Ministry of Health says they’re both from the same household and one member of the household had recently returned to Christchurch from Auckland.

“The local public health unit is gathering information from the cases to identify close contacts and exposure events, including any locations of interest,” the Ministry of Health said today.

“The ministry will undertake a public health risk assessment of the situation this morning and a further update will be provided after that.”

The Christchurch cases follow a scare in Blenheim at the long weekend after a person tested positive after flying from Rotorua.

* 7.07am: Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins
* 7.15am: Andrew Bates, who sailed from Australia to NZ

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said she was still gathering information this morning and could not discuss the cases yet.

The Blenheim case was the first infection in the South Island, which is at alert level 2, in nearly a year.

Waikato outbreak seeded in marginalised communities

Meanwhile the Delta outbreak in Waikato has seeded in marginalised communities, prompting concerns that it could mirror the outbreak in Auckland and spread all over the North Island.

Just yesterday Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins warned that it’s a matter of when, not if, Delta would leak further out of Auckland.

Despite that, he said the Government followed public health advice in moving Waikato into the same level 3 restrictions as Auckland.

From today, people in level 3 in Waikato can have outdoor gatherings between two households up to a maximum of 10 people, and ECEs can open with 10-children bubbles.

Waikato’s alert-level setting will be reviewed on Monday, along with Auckland’s.

Of the 74 cases yesterday, six were in Waikato – all linked – and the rest were in Auckland.

There were no new cases in Northland or the South Island, which remain at level 2.

Hipkins said stamping out the chains of transmission in Waikato was still possible, but the outbreak will have a “long tail” because it had seeded into the same groups – gangs and rough sleepers – as it had in Auckland.

“We’re not yet comfortable to drop the alert level settings any lower while case numbers continue to creep up,” he said.

“It’s not a question of ‘if cases will emerge outside of Auckland’, it’s a question of ‘when’. That might sound stark, but as one of my colleagues said last week, Delta is now on your doorstep.”

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the nature of cases in Waikato was “very concerning”.

“If we can’t contain it in Waikato, there’s no possibility of a firm boundary around Waikato so it’s going to be everywhere in the North Island,” he said.

“The health and economic damage for not containing it in Waikato is enormous. It would risk putting the whole of the North Island into level 3 because of widespread transmission.

“The whole country should care about what happens in Waikato at the moment.”

He wasn’t against allowing outdoor picnics in Waikato if it made the restrictions more sustainable, as long as there was a concerted and targeted public health effort on the ground to reach those marginalised groups.

“That’s the huge lesson from Auckland.”

Baker has called for measures at the boundary around Auckland to be strengthened, but Hipkins said it was too difficult, logistically and operationally, to require all travellers leaving Auckland to be fully vaccinated.

Instead director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said rapid antigen testing had been supplied to several businesses, including freight.

Today Hipkins is expected to outline MIQ changes, including shorter MIQ stays that will be implemented in the coming weeks and which will moderately increase MIQ spots for overseas returnees.

He is also expected to flag when MIQ will no longer be needed for fully vaccinated Kiwis coming home from overseas if they have a negative test and fly in from a low risk country.

Hipkins, who is also Education Minister, set November 15 as the date for Year 1 to 8 students to return to the classroom in Auckland and Waikato. This is also the date by which all education workers will need at least one dose of the vaccine.

But it would depend on several factors, including the state of the outbreak in each region, and would follow consultation with the sector.

If it goes ahead, Hipkins said it would likely be in stages to prevent too many children being on the school premises at once, and with as much outdoor learning as possible.

Year 9 and 10 students cannot return to school yet, though Hipkins said that could change as senior secondary school students spent more time away from school to prepare for exams.

“I would like to see Years 9 and 10 back at school this year, if that’s possible,” Hipkins said.

He said the Government was also working with the tertiary education sector on whether the student bubble size could double from 10 to 20.

“This could also happen from around November 15.”

He said health teams were ready to roll out booster shots or Pfizer doses for children aged 5-11 – which has been recommended by an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration in the US – whenever either were given the go-ahead by the Ministry of Health.

Bloomfield said he expected an application from Pfizer in the first two weeks of November for using vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.

And he said the ministry was planning to start booster shots “this side of Christmas”, if it was approved, for those who had been first in the vaccine rollout queue.

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