Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Hamilton, Raglan move to alert level 3 after new cases in Waikato, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces; 33 new cases in total, 15 unlinked

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Hamilton, Raglan and several other Waikato towns will move to alert-level 3 from 11.59pm tonight after the discovery of two Delta cases, and the spread of the virus beyond Auckland’s borders.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the alert-level elevation at a hastily arranged 1pm press conference following the discovery of the two Waikato cases – in Raglan and Hamilton East. Both people are known to each other but there is yet to be an established link to the Auckland outbreak.

As 33 new cases in total were announced today, Ardern said Level 3 would be imposed from 11.59pm in Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Ngaruawahia, Hamilton city and Huntly. The alert level would be reviewed in five days.

Hamilton will have spot checks around the boundary areas but it wouldn’t be like Auckland’s hard boundary for practical reasons, said Ardern. There were too many feeder roads into the Hamilton area, she said.

Ardern asked people to comply with the restrictions and work from home if they could.

The level-3 restrictions will apply for an initial five days while wide contact tracing, testing and wastewater testing occurs. Anyone with symptoms should get tested.

A further decision will be made in five days. Ardern noted recent wastewater testing had come back negative.

Auckland’s boundary remained in place, said Ardern. Cabinet meets tomorrow to decide the future of level 3 but experts such as Michael Baker say it’s highly unlikely the region will move out of level 3 this week based on the Waikato cases.

Ardern emphasised that a move back to level 4 was not being considered.

Ardern said tomorrow’s announcements around Auckland would not apply to Hamilton as they were separate outbreaks. The road map forward would be outlined tomorrow, particularly for Auckland.

The decision to put Huntly, Te Kauwhata and Ngaruawahia into level 3 was made because people were transiting through there on the way to Hamilton. If they had been left in level 2, Ardern suspected they would have put themselves into level-3 restrictions anyway.

Waikato cases not vaccinated

There are 33 new cases today, 15 of which are unlinked.

The two Waikato cases are not vaccinated and Ardern urged people to get vaccinated.

“It is not a coincidence that those in our current [Waikato] outbreak have not been vaccinated,” Ardern said.

Unvaccinated people were in the minority but were the vast majority of cases – “because the vaccine works.”

Ardern said the two Waikato cases were connected to each other but not, at this stage, to Auckland’s outbreak. Further investigation including genome sequencing would help work out the link, said Ashley Bloomfield.

The Ministry of Health said the two cases had been involved in a “number of potential events”.

Bloomfield said the Waikato cases had given “great cooperation and engagement” so officials were confident they would have good information around things like exposure events.

The person in Hamilton was in their 40s and the Raglan case was in their 50s.

The Raglan case and their family were now in quarantine in Auckland.

Anyone in Raglan with symptoms is urged to get tested today – a pop-up testing centre is operating at the Raglan rugby grounds. Anyone unvaccinated can go to the Raglan area school from 2.30pm to get the jab today.

The Hamilton case was tested yesterday and transferred to Waikato Hospital overnight – there are no exposure events from the hospital as they were well prepared to receive the patient. Their family members are self-isolating.

Anyone in Hamilton with symptoms is asked to get tested and isolate till getting their result.

New public exposure events could be listed throughout the afternoon. There will be a number of locations of interest, particularly around the Hamilton case. They had moved “locally” for a period of time, said Ardern.

Ardern wasn’t aware of any movement outside the region or anyone from Auckland who was in contact with the family.

Vaccination rates

In Auckland, first doses of the vaccine are at 83.9 per cent of eligible people and Ardern said momentum was still good. The rest of the country was at 79 per cent.

Ardern said the vaccine kept people safe and gave us choices. A 90 per cent vaccination rate in Hamilton or Raglan would have made it “highly unlikely” that level 3 would have been announced today.

“The people of Auckland are sacrificing a lot… to give everyone else time to be vaccinated.

“Please get vaccinated today if you want to avoid level 3 in your community.”

She understood people were nervous about the jab but assured them it was safe. Nurses were friendly and could answer any questions. There were still 887,000 eligible people who hadn’t been vaccinated.

“We have a different approach to Covid within our sights.”

People were looking ahead to summer and their plans – the vaccine would make summer plans possible.

There are 1500 vaccination bookings today and 2800 tomorrow in the Waikato. A number of walk-in centres are also open today.

33 new cases today – 15 unlinked

There are 33 new Covid cases in the community today – that includes one of the two new Waikato cases. The second Waikato case would be counted in tomorrow’s data.

Fifteen of today’s cases are yet to be linked to existing clusters.

Twenty-six cases are in hospital, with three in ICU. Bloomfield said two of today’s 15 unlinked cases have possible links that are yet to be confirmed.

A Covid-positive truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North was included in today’s case numbers. They were picked up through routine surveillance which showed the value of this form of testing, Bloomfield said.

The driver was in Palmerston North when they received news of the positive test – they are isolating in a “bespoke” facility on Palmerston North Hospital grounds. Family members are also isolating.

Most locations of interest are petrol stations for that case. Genome sequencing is under way to work out the link with the Auckland outbreak.

Ardern said the truck driver, the Raglan case and the Hamilton case were unvaccinated. The truck driver’s household members are vaccinated – they haven’t tested positive yet.

The Palmerston North case was different from the Waikato cases because the source was known – they came from Auckland and undetected community spread was not a concern there, Bloomfield said.

It was harder to define the edges of the Hamilton outbreak because the source was not known.

Meanwhile, Bloomfield said some of today and yesterday’s positive cases were from the subclusters connected to transitional and emergency housing.

None had been discovered through the surveillance testing of other housing locations – they all came from accommodation where cases were already known about.

Testing is still going well – Bloomfield it was hard to emphasise how important that was. Last Friday was the highest testing number in over a month.

Meanwhile, 14 of yesterday’s 27 cases have exposure events. Of yesterday’s reported cases just four remain unlinked.

There are five active subclusters in Auckland with new cases emerging in recent days.

Tamaki protest a 'slap in the face' for Aucklanders

Asked about the police response to the Brian Tamaki-led protest in Auckland yesterday, Ardern said it was an operational matter for police. “It’s very important that I don’t step into their decision-making.” She had faith in the police.

But her personal view was that the protest was “morally wrong”. It was also illegal, and a “slap in the face” for all Aucklanders.

She understood police were still considering what to do with those who had broken the rules.

She disagreed with the assertion that there was one rule for Tamaki and a different rule for everyone else.

EARLIER

The Ministry of Health was due to release today’s latest Covid-19 case numbers in a press release at 1pm.

But that changed following the announcement this morning that the virus has slipped outside Auckland’s borders – with one case popping up in Raglan and one in Hamilton East. The two cases are linked.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted the press conference.

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The person in Raglan with the virus got tested after feeling unwell – it’s thought they were infectious for five days before going into isolation, and passed on the virus to the Hamilton case during that time.

The Ministry of Health says there are a number of exposure events – and more details would be released this afternoon.

Non-citizens need jab to travel to NZ

Manwhile, All non-New Zealand citizens will have to be fully vaccinated before they’re allowed to travel to this country as of November 1, Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

“We are introducing the requirement for air travellers aged 17 and over, who are not New Zealand citizens, to be fully vaccinated to enter New Zealand.

“This is an important step in our Reconnecting New Zealand strategy,” Hipkins said in a statement.

Travellers will be required to declare their vaccination status when registering with the Managed Isolation Allocation System, as well as presenting proof of vaccination or a relevant exemption to their airline and to Customs officers once they land.

They will need to have had a full course of any of the 22 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority, with the last dose being at least 14 days before arrival.

Busy in Raglan for school holidays

School holiday traffic has been pouring into Raglan this morning despite the news of a person in the area testing positive for Covid-19, a pub owner says.

Helen Rowling, owner of the Wharf kitchen and bar, said nothing much had changed in the town despite this morning’s announcement.

Her restaurant was doing a normal Sunday trade with 24 people seated.

“Punters are still here, doing the social distancing thing, masks on, all that malarkey.”

The school term ended on Friday, and Rowling said the roads are full of traffic as people headed for their baches.

The people arriving were obviously from outside Auckland – they would not want to be coming into a lockdown situation, she said.

It was a brilliant fishing day and there were “heaps of boats out here catching snapper like you wouldn’t believe”. People were filling up their freezers, she said.

Police have been vigilant over the past week, checking in on businesses to ensure they were following level 2 policies such as masking. Her restaurant was visited yesterday afternoon by police.

Everyone had been hoping for a level 1 move tomorrow but level 2 could be “our new norm”, Rowling said.

High case numbers already expected

High case numbers were already expected today as the Delta variant continues to bubble away in Auckland.

Cases have been stubbornly high in recent days as the Delta variant continues to bubble away in Tāmaki Makaurau. Yesterday there were 27 new cases acquired in the community, all within the city’s borders.

Seventeen of them were in the Counties Manukau DHB area, six within Auckland DHB and four in Waitematā DHB.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker told the Herald seeing Covid-19 cases spill into the Waikato was a huge concern and would meant Auckland was more likely to stay in level 3 a little longer.

It’s also possible a bespoke lockdown could be put in place for the Waikato region – similar to that imposed around Mangatangi after a case emerged there last month.

Experts had been warning that an increase in daily cases was expected after Auckland moved down to alert level 3, allowing a little more freedom of movement.

Some increase in case numbers was also expected due to the virus circulating within large households, all of whom should in theory be isolating if they were close contacts of known cases.

The bigger concern is how many cases of community transmission are occurring in people who have not been isolating.

Health officials also announced yesterday that a truck driver had tested positive for the Delta variant after travelling from Auckland to Palmerston North.

The driver had stopped off at a number of fuel stops and twice at a Burger King in Rangitikei during their infectious period. Their infection came to light through surveillance testing.

Cabinet decision due tomorrow

Cabinet is meeting on Monday to decide on alert level settings, including whether Tamaki Makaurau can move down to level 2.

Tomorrow marks the first official day of the school holidays, with most Auckland children having now spent seven weeks away from school and in lockdown at home.

It had been hoped the holidays would be spent in level 2, allowing them to visit friends and family.

But public health experts have warned a move to level 2 looks unlikely, with vaccination rates not yet at a level that would allow safe loosening of restrictions.

Those warnings came before today’s announcement of new cases in the Waikato.

Holidays outside the city are definitely off the cards – regardless of tomorrow’s decision, Auckland’s borders will remain closed to all but essential travellers.

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