Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Cases could reach 200 to 1000, expert Shaun Hendy expects Auckland in lockdown for weeks

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Auckland should expect lockdown to extend another few weeks from next Tuesday, with a top Covid-19 modeller saying it is possible total cases could top 1000 from this outbreak.

And Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has this morning confirmed there are more cases of Covid in Auckland, as expected, but the Coromandel seems to have dodged a bullet.

Meanwhile, a Victoria University lecturer in Wellington has tested positive. The person tested positive on Friday and was not infectious while on campus, an email from university Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford said.

“Last Friday, we advised you that one of our staff members was a close contact of two confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wellington. The staff member has now also tested positive for Covid-19. However, Regional Public Health has advised that based on prior negative tests, they were not infectious until last Friday, when we were all at alert level 4.

“As a result, there are no locations of interest related to the staff member at the university. We are keeping in close touch with the staff member and providing them with support,” said the email to Victoria University students.

Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking he did not have the Coromandel numbers in but the backlog in testing had been cleared. So far, there were no cases there. “It’s looking reasonably encouraging.”

Asked by Hosking why there were MIQ locations in the central city – given the source of the Delta outbreak is likely to have come from a recently returned arrival from Australia staying at the Crowne Plaza in central Auckland – Hipkins said about 60 per cent of MIQ facilities were in city centres, and there was a lot of risk mitigation in place.

He said there was a review underway about what happened at the Crowne Plaza – there were still a lot of unanswered questions.

Speaking on RNZ this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they were still working through “some theories” regarding a public walkway adjacent to the hotel. “We want to run down all the theories there.”

She said authorities had stopped placing people in MIQ at the Crowne Plaza at this stage, as a result.

Ardern told TVNZ the new cases being announced each day were people who were infected before the lockdown. Case numbers would continue to rise before starting to drop away. This was also why more locations of interest were still popping up.

Ardern said contact tracing alone was very difficult when there were so many locations of interest – part of the reason why the whole country was still at level 4.

Expert's worst-case scenario: 1000 cases and weeks in lockdown

Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said the cluster was clearly reaching towards the upper limit of expectations when it was detected in Auckland nearly a week ago.

Then they predicted 50 to 120 cases to have been circulating prior to the lockdown.

Now Hendy said a “best-case scenario” could see about 200 cases – greater than the outbreak in August last year – while it was possible the cluster could swell to 1000.

“It’s very early to be making estimates because we don’t yet know how effective alert level 4 is, but it is possible we could see 1000 cases before we close out this cluster.

“This does mean we will likely see level 4 held in place for several weeks more in the Auckland region.

“For the rest of the country, we will have to wait until later in the week to see if they remain clear, in which case, an alert-level shift could be considered on Friday.

“In Wellington, where there are active cases, officials will need to rule out spread within the community to consider an alert-level shift.”

Ardern told The AM Show she had seen “such a range” of modelling about the number of cases that she did not want to speculate. She said the numbers changed each day.

Meanwhile, TV host Mark Richardson has joined several other high-profile broadcasters in isolating at home.

The co-anchor of TV3’s breakfast show appeared well when he Zoomed in from his home to pay tribute to departed co-anchor Duncan Garner.As he finished recounting the years alongside the broadcaster, he broke down in tears telling Garner: “You’re welcome at Christmas any time you like, mate.”

TVNZ’s Hilary Barry and The Project’s Jeremy Corbett are also self-isolating after they attended separate gala events at Spark Arena on August 12 and 13.

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There are now 400 potential exposure sites across New Zealand, the majority in Auckland.

Where are the vaccine boosters?

Jacinda Ardern said experts were seeing a lot of household transmission with the latest outbreak. “It was not unexpected.”

She told TVNZ the Government had picked up the pace on its vaccine rollout and by September 1 everyone would be eligible to book. She pointed out there was a healthcare worker involved in the latest outbreak that had been fully vaccinated.

She told The Am Show the vaccine rollout was “exactly where we had anticipated being”.

“We always said it would take us a year,” she said. “If you look at some of those other countries they have stalled … and that is not enough to stop outbreaks.”

She denied other countries were more successful in their rollout. Her priority was to make New Zealanders safe and did not want to compare us to the US or UK.

She said the goal was to get as many Kiwis vaccinated as possible. But she said even if 80 per cent of the country was vaccinated, if a large group of a particular age cohort was not there could still be an outbreak among them.

“We don’t need more vaccine,” she said. “The difference between us and Australia … is they don’t have a single vaccine for their whole population. We have more than enough for our whole population … since the beginning.”

Asked by Hosking about vaccine boosters, Hipkins said the Government had not yet signed an agreement but they did have a 1.5 million “in-principle agreement” about what they could access and when.

Hipkins said feedback was that Pfizer was keen to give New Zealand access to boosters.

“We are expecting after everyone who was eligible we would have 1.5 to 2 million doses … We would need more by about the second quarter next year.”

Asked why Australia can get deliveries from Poland, he said New Zealand didn’t have a bilateral arrangement.

He rejected the suggestion that New Zealand had had only conversations and nothing practical to sort New Zealand’s vaccination rate. At the moment Australia was only ahead of New Zealand for vaccinations because they also had access to Astra Zeneca.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday the Auckland level 4 lockdown would extend another week from midnight Tuesday, now ending 11.59pm on Tuesday, August 31. For the rest of the country, level 4 settings would continue until 11.59pm this Friday.

The Government would reassess the national settings on Friday afternoon, and for Auckland next Monday.

The announcement came after 35 new cases were announced on Monday, the highest daily rise in over a year, bringing the total from this Delta outbreak to 107 – 99 of them in Auckland and eight in Wellington.

Ardern said the longer period would allow time for more testing of known contacts, and wastewater results, as well as whether new cases had been in isolation throughout their infectious periods.

More than 14,000 contacts have now been identified. The vast majority are considered close contacts.

“Aucklanders will see this data and will know this two weeks is a given,” Ardern said.

There were “hundreds” of contacts in the South Island, and the spread was from the top to bottom of the country. So far wastewater testing had only identified the virus in Auckland and Wellington.

Another modeller Professor Michael Plank said cases currently reported were very likely to have been infected prior to lockdown.

By the week’s end they should be able to build a picture of how effective lockdown itself had been at containing the outbreak and how long it should continue.

With contacts identified all around the country, there could be other contacts that haven’t been identified. and some of these could still be in their incubation period.

“By Friday we will know more and a drop to alert level 3 is a realistic possibility for regions with no active cases.”

University of Auckland infectious disease expert Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles said it appeared the Government was looking to move parts of New Zealand down to a lower alert level as soon as it could be assured it was safe to do so.

Testing the wastewater was a new tool that wasn’t available during the last nationwide lockdown, she said.

“We can see by how quickly this outbreak has grown that the increased infectiousness of Delta in combination with super-spreader events can quickly overwhelm the ability to use contact tracing to identify cases and stop chains of transmission.”

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Nick Wilson said due to the fast response, New Zealand was looking like it could replicate the success with control of a Delta variant outbreak – as seen in Queensland and South Australia.

“Nevertheless, the continuation of the alert level 4 setting for the whole country to at least Friday night seems wise as there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

Wilson said the Government should take a “strong regional approach”, with tight internal border controls to manage the outbreak.

“This will allow for regions such as the South Island that might soon be declared Covid-19 free to move down through the alert levels faster than regions that still have cases.”

It was also revealed on Monday just three of the 107 community cases had been fully vaccinated, while another 13 had received one dose.

It still was not known how the virus had spread from the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility, but the investigation was now focused on the atrium. All but two of the people in the atrium at the time had been located.

Ardern said re-testing of all staff at Crowne Plaza and the Jet Park facility had revealed no new clues as to how the virus got into the community.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the big exposure events they were concerned about were two weeks ago this Saturday, so that fitted in with the lockdown until midnight Friday.

Bloomfield said the Assembly of God Church of Samoa remained the event with the highest Covid cases.

About 50 per cent of cases so far were Pasifika, particularly of concern given their higher vulnerability at a population level.

The managed isolation and quarantine system has temporarily paused the release of rooms on the allocation system due to the outbreak. This included cancelled vouchers that were normally re-released. No rooms would be available to book for a few days.

Ardern said despite what had been happening overseas the country remained committed to an elimination strategy, which had “worked before”.

But as a new variant of the virus has emerged, Ardern says the elimination strategy will change.

Ardern said the advice of the Skegg group had taken account of Delta. But it would depend on expert advice when the roadmap might start, and whether there would be some tolerance for Covid in the community once vaccination rates were high.

The continuation of New Zealand’s vaccination programme would “lessen the need” for future lockdowns.

“Now elimination is the strategy absolutely particularly while we vaccinate our people.”

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