Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Auckland alert level shift rocked by Covid case spike

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Aucklanders face a nervous wait ahead of today’s Covid positive case numbers which may indicate whether yesterday’s 45 cases are an anomaly or a warning of what’s to come.

Experts say it’s too early to know whether yesterday’s announcement – a far cry from Tuesday’s eight positive cases – spells disaster for Auckland’s move to alert level 2 to be decided by Cabinet on Monday.

However, their initial assessments aren’t optimistic.

“Moving to level 2 would just add fuel to the fire,”University of Canterbury modeller Professor Michael Plank said.

Plank, speaking to Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan yesterday, noted the legitimate risk of cases climbing “very, very rapidly” should Auckland leave alert level 3 next week.

He did acknowledge more data was required to judge whether yesterday’s cases – of which 12 were unlinked – pointed to extensive transmission in the community.

“It could be that the number drops down in the next couple of days, or it could be the start of an uptick.”

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University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said positive cases were bound to crop up given community transmission hadn’t been stamped out before Auckland’s move out of alert level 4.

“I have been talking for the past week about the problem of this long tail which has indicated ongoing transmission that we haven’t been able to stop,” Baker said.

“It means there’s cases out there in the community so, inevitably, moving from alert level 4 down to alert level 3 allows more transmission from those remaining cases into the wider community.”

Baker said it takes about a week for a change in alert levels to realise, as there are still infected people in the community.

“When you change alert levels, you’re always looking backwards in time of seven to 10 days,” he said.

“People at alert level 3 they start getting exposed, then you have the incubation period of five days and then you have to get sick enough to get tested, then you have an overnight test, a week later we finally see that [number].

“We might see the numbers just keep on climbing from now on.

“I would not regard this as a blip but this is the way we are going now. I would love to be proven wrong.”

He said although it was yet to be a trend, there was still potential for a move up in alert levels.

At yesterday’s press conference, director general of public health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said a day with large case numbers had been expected, given the number of known household and close contacts of existing cases.

He clarified six of the 12 unlinked cases had possible ties to existing infections, and were under investigation.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the number of cases was “sobering” and said no one would be celebrating.

However, it was important to place it in context, knowing a lot of cases were from big households.

“We’ve still got to hold our nerve here,” he said.

“We do expect from time to time there will be blips.”

Meanwhile, concern remains over the extent to which Covid-19 has settled in gang and homeless communities.

To date, three separate gangs had witnessed Covid infections.

Bloomfield said some people in transitional or emergency housing had also caught the virus, but assured the public that cooperation with providers was high.

Pacific health director Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said at yesterday’s online select committee briefing on the Government’s response to Covid-19.

“If we think about the current outbreak, how it seems to have seated itself in a gang environment and the homeless, these are people that are less likely to be trusting of the health system,” Clifford-Lidstone said.

“Finding people within these communities that can promote the vaccine will be very important. These are things we’ve started to work on.”

Last week it was revealed a prospect for the Hells Angels had contracted Covid-19, the third gang in Auckland to be affected by the virus.

The positive test followed a patched member of Black Power becoming infected and spreading it to children living in his home just outside Kaiaua on the Hauraki Plains.

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Bloomfield also confirmed a volunteer at a pop-up vaccination station had tested positive for Covid-19 after having a shared morning tea with other volunteers.

He said the “small number” of people who attended the morning tea were being treated as close contacts and isolating and being tested.

Another positive test had been registered on Tuesday from a person who had attended Waitakere Hospital on Saturday, September 25. Some staff had been stood down and a small number of patients were being followed up, Bloomfield said.

It comes as two investigations have been launched into how a police officer and junior sailor allegedly breached Auckland’s alert level boundary without exemptions in two separate incidents.

The Herald revealed the police officer to be Inspector Regan Tamihere, the Māori Responsiveness Manager for the Counties Manukau police district.

Sources told the Herald he was driving an unmarked police car and in full uniform when he was stopped at the border with passengers.

Those passengers were iwi contacts he knows through his position with police.

A source said earlier today he was “doing a favour” for those contacts.

One source said Tamihere was challenged by police staff manning the southern border – but they reportedly allowed him through after he insisted they couldn’t say no to him.

Tamihere told them that he could cross the border because he was an essential worker.

It was later revealed the Navy was investigating how a fully vaccinated junior sailor reportedly travelled to attend the funeral of a close family member without a Ministry of Health travel exemption.

“The sailor has been instructed to isolate in their rural property in Hawke’s Bay and get a Covid test,” the New Zealand Defence Force said.

“The RNZN is investigating the alleged border breach and the surrounding circumstances. The regional health authority has been informed.”

The Deputy Chief of Navy, Commodore Melissa Ross, said: “An investigation is currently under way into how the sailor managed to cross the border without an MoH exemption or essential travel status.

“While we acknowledge this junior sailor has experienced a significant loss and had wanted to support whānau, like many other New Zealanders in the same position, they must abide by the border restrictions in place and play their part in keeping New Zealand safe.”

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