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Two positive cases of Covid have been reported in Christchurch – and the Government isn’t ruling out a snap lockdown in the city.
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.”
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the case has been in Christchurch for up to a week.
Hipkins told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB that the two cases were unvaccinated and any infections outside the current alert levels was worrying.
Hipkins told RNZ that he cannot rule out a snap lockdown in Christchurch, but officials were still waiting on more information before making that call. He said they expect to make a decision at 1pm.
Hosking asked Hipkins if we are going straight to level 4.
“No not at all we don’t have the information to make a risk assessment on that. These cases came in late last night, we have got some information on them which means there is obviously questions, we should have answers to those questions later in the morning,” Hipkins said.
“Any cases that pop up outside of alert level areas where we have got some containment, yes they do worry me so what we know so far is that we are dealing with two cases so far. One who was in Auckland has been back in Christchurch for somewhere around about a week, potentially infectious for a period of that but has been unwell and so, therefore, may well have been isolating at home anyway because they were unwell.
“So we will know more about that – both cases are unvaccinated, and I think there is at least one other household that’s been identified with close contacts so they will be working to get in touch with them to make sure they are isolating and tested.”
Hipkins said the pair had come into contact with at least one other household in Christchurch – which is in alert level 2.
“The [cases] have not been particularly good users of the Covid tracer app,” Hipkins told TVNZ of the pair.
He took the opportunity to once again call on the public to get vaccinated.
He said it was now not if the virus would get to those unvaccinated, but when.
“Covid-19 is on our doorstep,” Hipkins told TVNZ Breakfast.
“Help us get those high rates of vaccination. It’s very safe to be vaccinated. You’re far less likely to get sick from Covid-19 if you are vaccinated.”
Epidemiologist Michael Baker told RNZ although Covid-19 is expected to spread throughout the country, the two Christchurch cases were still quite a shock.
The Christchurch outbreak should be manageable if it is just the person who travelled to the city and their household contact, he said.
He said the bigger question was how many other people were now isolating in the South Island.
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Baker said a high proportion of people will be asymptomatic or only have a few symptoms so it was critical for people with any symptoms at all to get tested.
He thought Auckland’s suppression strategy would start to move across the rest of the country replacing the elimination strategy.
“It’s going to be a challenge to stop the virus from spreading across New Zealand in the next few weeks,” Baker told the AM Show.
New Zealand needed to delay the virus as much as possible to get higher vaccine coverage.
Baker told the AM Show that there were huge health and economic benefits in delaying the spread of Delta across New Zealand as long as possible.
Baker said all the tools available should be used to slow the spread of the virus including making sure people were double jabbed before they travelled.
The Christchurch cases follow a scare in Blenheim at the long weekend after a person tested positive after flying from Rotorua.
'Shock to the system': Chch mayor
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said she woke up to the news this morning like everyone else.
“It was a bit of a shock to the system. It’s not the news I wanted to wake up and hear.”
Dalziel said it is a reminder of just how contagious the virus is.
“It is just a huge reminder to be incredibly vigilant about using QR codes, wearing masks and the significance of getting tested if you have any systems, no matter what.
“It’s going to be really important to get on top of this.”
She said It is heartening 89 per cent of Christchurch residents have had their first dose of the vaccine.
“In three or four weeks we’ll be at 89 per cent double dose, we’re going to be ticking over the 90 per cent.
“The real message is the higher the rates of vaccination, the lower the need for any changes in our alert levels.”
Dalziel said she is hoping the two infected people hadn’t been out and about very much.
“Everything is going to come down to where the person and the other person have been over the last week.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed as I’m sure everyone else in Christchurch has.”
The Blenheim case was the first infection in the South Island, which is at alert level 2, in nearly a year.
Do you need a vaccine to fly on Air NZ
Air New Zealand said that proof of vaccination is not required for domestic travel and the Government digital proof of vaccine will not be available until the end of November.
“While Auckland remains at level 3, travel is extremely limited and the airline continues to use enhanced safety measures to keep its employees and customers safe,” the airline said.
Isolating at home
As for MIQ, Hipkins said one of the things they wanted to do over the last 24 hours is making sure there was more certainty and a road map for people to be aware, and what the trigger points are.
“We will be announcing today a reduced amount of time in home isolation.”
In NSW and Victoria people don’t isolate, Hipkins said their situation was different but NZ strategy was aiming to get high rates of vaccination around the country and want to suppress it and still needed public health measures in place.
Antigen tests were on their way into the country, he said.
New Zealand has a higher vaccination, lower case rate, and lower death rate than Australia, Hipkins said.
Hosking put to Hipkins that New Zealand was behind Australia’s vaccination. He said that 71.7 per cent of Kiwis were double-jabbed behind Australia’s 74.8 per cent total vaccination rate.
As of last night for double vaccination, Hipkins said New Zealand was ahead of Australia.
He said we had fewer people dying and the comparison wasn’t a fair one.
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 yesterdayHipkins 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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