Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Could today’s case number be the highest yet?

Daily case numbers are tipped to hit the hundreds next week but with case numbers rising all week, today’s figure could top the daily record set in the early days of this year’s outbreak.

On August 29, 83 new community cases were recorded in New Zealand – the highest number seen in a single day during the Delta outbreak.

Case numbers spiked to 75 again on September 1 but with numbers steadily rising from 35 on Monday to 71 yesterday, today’s figure could again reach the 80s.

Despite the increase in case numbers, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking there was no need for alarm.

“I don’t think we should be panicking. People should be following the alert level 3 rules, and they should be, if they haven’t already, getting vaccinated because that is going to be – and has always been – our ticket to more freedom. The future has come forward – let’s embrace it.”

Of yesterday’s 71 cases, 28 were unlinked but Bloomfield said the focus was now on isolating the cases rather than finding the link straight away.

On a potential change in alert level position for Auckland on Monday, Bloomfield said vaccination rates in the region would be a big consideration.

That’s where tomorrow’s Super Saturday events come in.

While it would not make a “material difference” for this Monday, it was crucial for down the track, Bloomfield said. The faster the region could get to a fully vaccinated rate of 90 per cent or higher, then all options were on.

Bloomfield told RNZ that of the 170 people so far hospitalised in the Delta outbreak in Auckland only three had been fully vaccinated.

Around 4 per cent of all people who had caught Covid in the outbreak were fully vaccinated – while a percentage of others had received one dose, he said. The vast majority of cases and hospitalised people had not received any dose.

“We do know vaccinated people seem to be infectious for a shorter period. First of all, they are less likely to pass on the virus and if they are infectious, it’s for a shorter period.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald the Government had been looking at how to revamp the way positive cases and Kiwis returning from overseas were managed but the need had now become immediate.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which we’re right at the tipping point of having to make some big decisions, based on a fundamentally different risk profile to the one we had a couple of months ago,” Hipkins said.

That meant positive cases identified as being at low risk of spreading the virus could be told to quarantine at home from now on.

“We have to look at our MIQ settings. Are we isolating the right people?” Hipkins said.

“At the moment right across MIQ, including the international arrivals and close contacts of cases, the vast majority don’t have Covid.

“When you’re dealing with actual cases in the community, you want as many as possible to be safely isolated, so the whole risk assessment changes.”

That means cases at low risk of infecting others will isolate at home, while high risk ones will be moved to MIQ.

Those could include people who are sick, live in large households or places that make isolation tricky, or are less likely to comply with what is necessarily a high-trust model.

Asked when home isolation might start, Hipkins said: “We’re at that point now. If a case was identified out of the cases today who could safely isolate at home, we’d be telling them to do that – particularly if they’re asymptomatic.”

The Government has already flagged shorter stays in MIQ or home isolation could be possible for fully vaccinated Kiwis returning from overseas but that was unlikely to happen until next year, Hipkins said.

Covid modeller Professor Michael Plank today said elimination of Covid was still a possibility, but now extremely unlikely.

He said the vaccine was the most important part of getting out of lockdown safely but evidence showed new strategies were necessary as well.

Some of that included better use of masks, wider testing strategies and better ventilation in buildings – particularly at schools, he said.

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