Covid 19 Delta outbreak: MIQ shake up – Cabinet considers shorter stays, home isolation for vaccinated travellers

A new case of Covid-19 has been identified in Waiuku.

The infection was confirmed today in the rural town 40 kilometres southwest of Auckland.

Waiuku Health Centre said it had taken its first positive swab test on Sunday and needed to inform the wider community.

The test was conducted on Saturday morning in a testing area at the back of the medical centre, with the patient remaining in their vehicle the whole time.

The health centre advised people to keep an eye out for locations of interest connected to this case.

“Stay well, Waiuku. Be cautious, be kind and be considerate – not just for others, but also for yourself,” centre management said in the community update.

The new case means Waiuku College has delayed plans to re-open today for senior students.

Due to the case in the communityschool leaders and the board of trustees had decided to close theschool for on-site learning for the remainder of the week.

In a Facebook post the school said on-line learning would continue as normal.

School leadership said the decision was made to alleviate any stress and confusion in the community and to prioritise the safety of our community over on-site learning.

A second school, Onewhero Area school was also closed for all onsite learning as a precautionary measure.

It will remain closed for the coming two days with school head re-evaluating the information and determining whether opening on Thursday would be safe for the rural community.

Local Awaroa ki Tuakau councillor Jacqui Church said Covid testing was available in Pukekohe today with logistics underway to set up a testing site atTuakau.

Cabinet meets to discuss shorter MIQ stays, home isolation for vaccinated

Meanwhile Cabinet is expected to sign off on shorter MIQ stays in the lead up to Christmas and to start scrapping MIQ in favour of home isolation for more travellers soon after.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has long signalled shorter MIQ stays are on the books, partly because of the community spread in Auckland as well as Delta’s short incubation period.

In an interview with Newsroom, he said that was expected to happen soon, and that home isolation would also become the “default” for vaccinated people returning from lower risk countries before the end of summer.

It’s understood Cabinet is set to sign on a move to allow shorter periods in MIQ combined with some home isolation from November. The move would apply only to vaccinated travellers from lower risk countries, but would free up more space in MIQ for returning New Zealanders.”

It is yet to make any decisions about completely replacing MIQ with home isolation but that is expected to happen next year.

Opposition parties have called for the move, saying it does not make sense that about 100 Covid-positive people in the current outbreak have been allowed to isolate at home while fully vaccinated people with negative Covid-19 test results were still required to do 14 days in MIQ.

Act leader David Seymour said this morning that the Government should just scrap MIQ in favour of home isolation.

“They should just dump MIQ unless you’re unvaccinated or you don’t have a negative test. If you have a negative test and you’re vaccinated there is no longer any justification for MIQ. It is just completely nuts.

“Once again this Government is unable to weigh up risk in a nimble way, and people are suffering as a result.”

Hipkins has previously said that given Covid-19 was currently largely only in Auckland, there would be risks with allowing people returning to travel to other regions.

Seymour said it was possible to allow home isolation only in Auckland for the time being.

“But we are moving very clearly to Covid being endemic in New Zealand. That much is clear.”

This morning Auckland University epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking he did not feel like New Zealand had hit a wall regarding vaccines.

They need carrots for the vaccinated and sticks for the unvaccinated, he said.

“This was life and death. This is the biggest catastrophe in public health… this is really, really important.”

Getting a vaccine was a blow to personal freedom but it was worth it, Jackson said.

Up to 560,000 people who are eligible to be vaccinated have not yet been vaccinated and if they became severely ill it threatened to cripple our health system.

“Our hospitals will collapse,” Jackson said.

No health system could cope with a Delta outbreak, he said, and pointed to Singapore, which is not coping with the current outbreak there.

Singapore has created a whole new hospital system. Across the Tasman, New South Wales and Victoria are “just holding” with their outbreaks.

The clinicians on the ground there are “freaking out” with the workload.

He said ICU could get bigger but it wouldn’t solve the issues with a Delta outbreak.
In America, the most vulnerable people just “died out” due to Covid.

It is not just about how many people, it is who they are and how sick they are and they are the ones who will overwhelm NZ’s health system, Jackson said.

“This is not North America … this is New Zealand and we just need to pull out all the stops and get as many people vaccinated.”

Up to 98 per cent of people in Canberra have had their first vaccine. There were Māori communities around New Zealand where most were vaccinated.

Asked what we are not doing, Jackson said every GP surgery should be vaccinated. There are a lot of people out there that belong to general practices that are not vaccinated and money could be invested in that area, too.

The Government last week gave businesses a mandate – that every business can now offer a “no jab, no job policies”, as The Warehouse Group did.

Jackson said in communities like Tairāwhiti, the DHB needed to go door-to-door otherwise they will be the ones who end up overwhelming hospitals and making it hard for other Kiwis to get urgent surgery for other issues.

Community cases expected to get higher

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles says we can expect to see Covid community cases getting higher over the next few days.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it…the outbreak is growing and it’s really clear that level 3 is not enough to contain Delta and we’re seeing that in the Waikato.”

She said it was very clear that the majority of people getting the virus and particularly those being hospitalised are those who are unvaccinated.

“As we’re seeing around the world, this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

“If our hospitals become overwhelmed, it’s not just people with Covid who suffer, it’s everybody – operations, people with strokes and all those kinds of things. We need to protect everybody.”

It was better then to make moves to prevent that from happening – rather than reactionary moves when or if that happened.

Wiles said as well as vaccination, people should still wear a mask. Good ventilation in buildings such as school classrooms was also going to help limit the rate of transmission.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB they had to make sure they got the percentage of New Zealanders that meant everyone would be safe.

They considered it was a “balanced approach” and would also target people in smaller, hard to reach towns.

Put to him that people have had all year to get their vaccination, Robertson said there were still hesitant people. In the meantime they should make sure they kept themselves healthy.

There were a large number of people who were on at him to reach 95 per cent rate instead of 90 per cent.

As for an incentive to get the vaccine, the person would be eligible to go to large gatherings and other events.

The Government would check on the new framework on November 29 and see which areas had reached 90 per cent, including the South Island.

Asked if the entire country would be held to ransom for the Tairāwhiti DHB – which was languishing in last place – Robertson said we were a whole country and that if we moved, we all move forward together.

That would then put the country in a better position than what it is in level 3.

“We are all in this together.”

Robertson said it was their goal to get to a 90 per cent vaccination rate. If they did not, he said they would look at that at the end of next month and there were still the options of localised lockdowns if needed.

Managed isolation and quarantine at home

On home managed isolation and quarantine, asked why people who were vaccinated were being put in MIQ, Robertson said not everyone stayed in Auckland and more would be announced in “coming days”.

The Government had enough boosters to get started now and they were ordering more but they were just waiting on health advice.

Asked how much money Māori had been given, Robertson said that was $120 million and then roughly $20m-$30m for supporting whanau ora groups. “Māori vaccination rates need to lift and they have been.”

Robertson said it was spent on mobile clinics, access to vaccines, and to allow health authorities to get out and work with the community groups.

He told Breakfast the overall reaction to the traffic light system announced on Friday had been good.

He praised District Health Boards and areas that had reached the 90 per cent first dose vaccination rate in the Auckland region – and Counties Manukau, which is sitting at 88 per cent.

“We are remarkably close…we want to make sure that we push on to 90.”

On vaccination certificates, Robertson said they would be important for businesses and events such as festivals – ensuring that everyone there was protected.

“For the good of all of us, we need people to be vaccinated and we also want to give people confidence that when they do go out, that they’re going to be able to know that they are protected not only by their own vaccination, but by others as well.”

That was especially so for festivals and events Kiwis were so used to going to over the summer – which had the potential to be super-spreader events, Robertson said.

He said those places or events that would not require vaccine certificates to be shown would be “very limited” and moves would need to be made to ensure people attending those events were protected still also.

Back to school for Auckland senior students

Senior high school students in Auckland are officially allowed back on school grounds today.

Howick College principal Iva Ropati said everyone was a little nervous, apprehensive and excited today.

“Students are nervous, staff are nervous about coming back. It’s just a really unusual situation,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast show.

Ropati said they were expecting about 300 students returning today. They were partially opening up because the senior roll reached more than 1000 students.

“We want no risk.”

They had told students and families that it was optional to come to school and are supporting those who have chosen to keep learning from home due to various circumstances – including vulnerable people at home and feeling anxious about physically returning to school.

Papakura High School principal Simon Craggs said their school is opening up fully to senior students today.

He acknowledged that many students in their community had struggled during lockdown, with a low engagement via online learning.

Craggs said teachers would also be trying to give their lessons outside as much as possible – weather permitting.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Melanie Webber said she was really concerned about senior students heading back to school so quickly and they had been receiving conflicting advice from the health ministry.

The association wanted a clear idea of what the vaccination level around staff and students was before they returned.

“It’s worrying the speed of what it’s happening,” she told Three’s AM Show.

While teachers would be vaccinated, a lot of students were not fully vaccinated.

Webber said students returning to school had happened really fast and they couldn’t be sure all schools had clear health and safety plans.

There was a huge diversity to how schools were running during level 3 in Auckland with some going back to normal timetables, some doing it by year-by-year and others deciding to stick to online learning.


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