Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated that Auckland will remain in lockdown for another week.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has declared that Auckland will remain in Covid-19 alert level 4 for another week, until 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Cabinet has made an in principle decision that Tāmaki Makaurau will then move to alert level 3.

The rest of New Zealand will remain in alert level 2 until Tuesday next week.

Alert level settings will be reviewed next Monday.

Ardern says Cabinet has made an indicative decision about Auckland, but has not made one about the rest of New Zealand moving to alert level 1.

While there is nothing to indicate there is Covid-19 outside of Auckland, lower restrictions in the rest of the country would mean a far greater risk of spread if it did escape, she says.

Having the rest of the country at alert level 2 gives a greater chance of stamping the virus out if it does get out of Auckland, she says.

Auckland has been at alert level 4 since midnight on 17 August after an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Cabinet has seen evidence and advice that alert level 4 is working, saying it has consistently reduced the R value below 1, and it is now about 0.6, Ardern says.

“On that basis and on the advice of the Director-General of Health, Auckland will remain at alert level 4 until 11.59pm next Tuesday, the 21st of September.”

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the “lockdown is working” and it is only a small number of cases that the ministry is focused on.

“The testing is at a good level … so our view and our advice is that another week in lockdown in alert level 4 in Auckland gives us our best chance to really finish the job off here.

“Our view is we are doing everything right. It is paying off and we need to see this through and there is good reason to want to eliminate the virus again,” Bloomfield says.

“It does allow us to enjoy a full range of activities and for the economy to really crank back up again.”

He says the focus for the next week is finding cases.

Cases and testing

Ardern says today there are 33 new community cases to report, but only one of them is currently unlinked.

“Likewise of the cases reported yesterday, just one remains unlinked to the wider outbreak at this point.”

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Ardern says in some cases where an epidemiological link has not been able to be built, the genome sequencing is still able to tell authorities how the case fits into the outbreak.

They expect to have more information about the one as-yet unlinked case reported today.

Ardern says one reason for the bigger numbers over the weekend is high rates of transmission within households.

Bloomfield mentioned yesterday, about 16 percent of very close contacts become cases.

“That in and of itself will generate about another 50 cases in the coming days and we’re starting to see some of those come through.”

The number of unlinked cases goes up and down every day, Bloomfield says.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield hold the Post Cabinet Covid 19 lockdown update in the Beehive.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield hold a Post Cabinet Covid-19 lockdown update in the Beehive. Photo: Pool image / Robert Kitchin /Stuff

At 9am there were 17 unlinked cases but only a small number of those the ministry was really worried about.

Ardern says surveillance testing of healthcare workers and essential workers has also not identified any transmission.

“It’s also clear there is not widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland.”

Ardern says there are two key features of recent cases that are of interest. She says there are three clusters that still have cases emerging, and there is the ongoing emergence of cases that are initially unlinked.

“Mystery cases are still coming through, and the fact that we are finding them through surveillance and community testing rather than through contact tracing, that is what we’re concerned about because that does present risk.”

She says there are seven suburbs of interest where people should remain especially vigilant for symptoms. They are: Mt Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.

She says one of the points the health team has made is that they are more concerned about some unlinked cases than others.

“There’s really only three or four that we discuss in a lot of detail because there’s not really an early hint of what’s happened.”

The cases that are still of concern include one case in Mt Eden, and cases that have arrived into Middlemore.

She says additional testing is brought in to support places where such cases arise “until an epidemiological link is found”.

That leaves two very clear tasks – active cluster management and surveillance and community testing, Ardern says.

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The third ask is to get tested for even mild symptoms. “Please don’t put it down to winter chills, we know that right now there isn’t much of that going around. Flu traffic in particular is showing us that.”

Vaccinations

Ardern says the government wants as many Aucklanders as possible to have had their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the week. She says people booked for October should consider going online again and seeing if more bookings have opened up.

Another option is going to a drive-through vaccination clinic, with no need for booking.

Ardern says she stands by her previous statements that the government does not want to continue to use lockdowns, but we need to make sure that we have enough New Zealanders vaccinated.

“That’s why New Zealanders are empowered too. They have the chance to move away from lockdowns as much as we do, by being vaccinated.”

Bloomfield says we are vaccinating at a great rate and it is important to get to the highest rate possible. He says it is also no good if there are pockets within the community who are not vaccinated, so they are also focusing on vaccinations in smaller communities.

They are also looking more closely at vaccinations for children aged five to 11, he says.

There is very good data – even from just this outbreak in New Zealand – about the effectiveness of vaccines, Bloomfield says.

“The risk of both becoming a case, and certainly of being hospitalised, is much much lower if you’re fully vaccinated, and is lower even with just a single vaccination. So that is real world evidence, real New Zealand evidence, that the vaccine protects you and your family from Covid-19.”

Even with high levels of vaccination, you still need other restrictions to be able to manage the load on the healthcare system, he says.

“We are watching very closely what is happening with other countries where they have got the virus in the community with high vaccination rates and the impact that’s having on the healthcare system.”

He says the UK is a good example, reporting 6000 new hospitalisations last Friday, which population-wise would equate to 600 new cases in hospital on any one day. “That’s a lot for our health system to be able to cope with.”

However, he says with high levels of vaccination, it means much less of an impact on healthcare.

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He says he would attribute lower vaccination rates for Māori to the fact “we still have more work to do”. He says the challenge and focus now is on getting rates up among younger Māori.

Message to Aucklanders

“To all Aucklanders, you’ve done an amazing job so far protecting yourselves, your family and your community,” Ardern says.

“We owe you a huge debt of gratitude … but the cases are telling us we have additional work to do.”

She says four weeks into lockdown, it might be tempting to relax their bubble, but asks everyone to treat every day as seriously as they did day one.

People should have an assigned person who goes to the supermarket, Ardern says.

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