Day 20 of the Covid-19 Delta outbreak: What happened?

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Photo: RNZ, AFP, Pool NZME

Apart from Auckland, the rest of the country will be reduced to level 2, with officials concerned about a steep decline in testing numbers while new case numbers stay same.

At today’s post-cabinet briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand, outside of Auckland, will be placed on alert level 2 at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, September 7.

Auckland will remain at level 4 until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, September 14th.

Cabinet will evaluate the alert level settings for the entire country on Monday, September 13th.

Lockdown Day 20 by the numbers:

  • There are 20 new cases, all in Auckland
  • 16 are linked to previously known cases and four are not
  • 40 people with Covid-19 in hospital, six people are in intensive care
  • There are now 821 community cases – 804 in Auckland, and 17 in Wellington
  • Three new cases identified in managed isolation and quarantine

Meanwhile, the government revealed Delta alert level 2 looks different and settings have been changed.

Indoor hospitality venues will have a limit of 50, outdoor venues will have a limit of 100 people.

Indoor public facilities like gyms, which did not previously have limits on people inside and required one-metre distancing, will require two meter distancing.

Ardern also announced that face coverings are now mandatory at level 2 in most public venues.

People can remove their mask in venues like restaurants and cafes but staff at public facing businesses must wear face coverings, Ardern said.

“To keep it really simple, if you’re out and about at indoor venues, please wear a mask.”

Masks are “our new normal” at level 2, she said.

Ardern says that masks are not being mandated in schools, and Bloomfield says it is “recommended, but not required”.

Auckland testing drop causes concern

Auckland has been put on notice – get testing if you want to get out of level 4.

But Covid-19 swabbing numbers have been falling so fast in the city, some centres closed early at the weekend.

There were just 2592 tests in Auckland on Saturday, a tenth of the number some days early in the lockdown.

Ministry of Health said it wanted to see about 7000 tests a day to keep an eye out for any undetected Covid-19 cases that could cause the outbreak to keep going.

So far in Auckland that was not happening.

Te Whānau o Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere said one of its west Auckland centres closed at 1pm yesterday because there was no one to test.

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Some days in this outbreak they had been open till 9pm to get the job done.

South Seas Healthcare chief executive Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo said they have gone from about 1400 swabs a day to fewer than 200.

His team were baffled by the extent of the drop.

“With Delta being the way it is, it does worry me that we don’t have enough testing – especially around Auckland – to tell us the real picture about what’s happening on the ground,” he said.

Aucklanders had largely stepped up when it came to testing in the outbreak – about 20 percent of people have been swabbed.

But Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said it could not stop now.

He reminded the tens of thousand of contacts to remember their follow up tests and said New Zealanders everywhere should be getting tested if they have symptoms.

“Even if it’s a runny nose or aches and pains, we’d like you to get a test,” he said.

Robertson said the country could not afford to be complacent about its falling case numbers – 20 for two days in a row – and needed only to look to Victoria who were on the road to beating Covid-19 when cases numbers rose again.

MIQ staff breaches

Two staff members are among those who have breached Covid-19 infection prevention rules at quarantine facilities since the current community outbreak began.

The staff members were found to not be wearing masks appropriately, while caring for hundreds of people who have confirmed cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Joint head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Rose King said there have been eight reported “bubble breaches” at specialist quarantine facilities since the outbreak began.

That does not include the incident where a Covid-19 positive community case absconded from the Novotel and Ibis in Ellerslie on Wednesday evening.

“Auckland bubble breaches include incidences such as a staff member wearing their mask incorrectly, and separately another staff member wearing an incorrect mask,” Brigadier King said.

“Both were reminded of PPE protocols.”

There was no mention of further repercussions for the staff members.

King said there were other breaches in Auckland.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the breaches by staff were of particular concern.

“We have to assume that everyone at these facilities is potentially infectious, so any breach is of concern because it could provide a pathway for this virus to go from one of those infected returnees into the community,” Baker said.

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“And of course it’s even more important at the moment because rather than having perhaps 20 to 30 people in our MIQ system, we’ve got hundreds of infected people in the system in Auckland at the moment because so many people have been infected in the community.

“This is really going to be straining our system at the moment, so it’s even more important than usual that very good practices are followed by the staff and that they make sure that people staying at these facilities are following these precautions.”

Middlemore Hospital infection

A case of Covid-19 in a Middlemore patient who shared a room with three others has raised questions around the screening and testing procedures of those admitted to hospital.

Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Services (MERAS) co-leader Jill Ovens said there was capacity for all those going to hospital to be swabbed for Covid-19.

“We heard all weekend that we have been letting the side down in Auckland by not going out and getting tested for the least little sniffle and yet you have got patients presenting in emergency departments who are not automatically tested.

“It seems to me that if we want to get our testing numbers up the place to start is in our EDs.”

But Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s Dr John Bonning said testing patients for Covid-19 before admitting them to hospital was not an option, given the length of time it took for test results to be returned.

He said the Delta variant remained “really, really challenging”.

Head of the New Zealand Nursing Organisation Kerri Nuku said news of the positive case at Middlemore was unsettling for everyone involved and reflected a health system under pressure.

She said every patient should be treated as if they had Covid-19 until proven otherwise, but hospitals did not have the resources to treat them as such.

She was also aware there were staffing issues on the wards where the patient had been.

“This sort of pressure on the health system does often come up with some failures.”

Nuku said the union wanted to see adequate support for nursing staff, with around 18 of their colleagues required to self-isolate after the incident.

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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the link to the positive case at the hospital hadn’t been found yet but interviews were underway.

“I’m confident there will be a link there,” he said.

Essential workers crossing the border required to have weekly tests

Essential workers crossing alert level boundaries will be required to undergo weekly testing, Bloomfield announced .

Those people will be expected to have had a test in the last seven days and must show proof of it, he said.

Three thousand people are crossing the border between Auckland and the rest of the country each day.

People who transit between Auckland will need to transit through without stopping if they’re moving from south of Auckland to Northland.

During the level 2/ level 4 transition, the message to travellers is “Don’t stop in Auckland,” Ardern said.

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