Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Opening up Auckland hospitality businesses still too risky, expert says

As Auckland settles into day 94 in a strict alert level lockdown, many will be wondering whether next week may see a move into lesser restrictions and the chance to go to a restaurant, visit a cafe or finally get a haircut.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Christchurch today; visiting and meeting with a number of community and business leaders in the city.

She is then due to give a media stand-up alongside Wigram MP Dr Megan Woods, also the minister for Research, Science and Innovation.

It is not quite clear what Ardern will talk about at this stage.

On Monday, the Government will review whether or not there will be a move out of the current alert level 3.2; which has allowed retail stores and some public facilities in Auckland to open their doors once again.

But at least one expert says we would be better off waiting to see how opening retail back up in Auckland had impacted the number of community cases being identified in our largest city.

Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy says we have not yet seen the impact of reducing restrictions in Auckland 10 days ago – but we may start to see it soon.

“Those [new cases] will just be starting to filter through now. So we might start to see that effect over the next week,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast.

“There is always a lag when you’re looking at the data,” he said.

There were 167 community cases reported yesterday, as well as the deaths of two people who had contracted Covid. The majority of cases remain in Auckland.

Despite high community cases, R number going down

Hendy said despite the high number of cases, things were looking “pretty good” and that the R number of Covid-19 had been dropping over the last few weeks and is now closer to 1.

The R number is the average number of people one infected person will pass the virus on to.

When we get below 1, we will start to see case numbers drop over time and it will be a sign that our vaccination rates have gone ahead of the virus.

However, the opening of retail stores in Auckland just over a week ago may have just “kicked things up” more again, Hendy said.

Opening up hospitality businesses in Auckland still too risky

Opening up hospitality was a much riskier step than opening up retail, he said, due to the nature of hospitality businesses – which will see people coming into close contact with each other and for a longer period of time than being in a shop, for example.

“I would certainly think that was a riskier step – particularly before we go into the traffic light system.”

Hendy said we should be cautious about moving Auckland into alert level 3, phase 3, next week and that if the Government remains relaxed, we could see another significant outbreak.

If we still have high community cases before moving into the traffic light system, case numbers could still increase in pockets of the community.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in his morning interviews today that officials were still considering public health advice ahead of any decision to move Auckland into alert level 3.3 as well as a transition to the traffic light system.

Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking the signal was “very strong” that the country is looking to move to the traffic light system soon.

He remained coy when asked directly if Auckland is set to move to alert level 3.3 next week; saying he could not pre-empt what the Government will announce next week.

Meanwhile, Bloomfield confirmed that there were a small group of people who were waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine and 100,000 doses had arrived in the country yesterday.

On the vaccine certificates, he told Three’s AM Show that half a million had been downloaded by the New Zealand public as of 6.30pm yesterday.

He acknowledged that community cases were still popping up in the regions and it was likely we would see more when the Auckland region opened.

“We have got to make sure we are taking all the measures … people need to be on alert because the virus could pop up anywhere,” he said.

Increasing vaccine rates were going to be a huge enabler in New Zealand having a good summer, he said.

Bloomfield was also pushed on why data relating to unvaccinated Māori wasn’t being released to Whānau Ora.

Bloomfield said information of those enrolled in the organisation had been handed over but the problem was releasing data of those who were not enrolled.

Officials continue to work with iwi and Whānau Ora to get that information, he said.

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