Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Chris Hipkins on the Christchurch case; shorter MIQ stays

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is poised to reveal whether level 3 might be imposed on Christchurch following two new cases in the city overnight.

He will also outline Cabinet’s decisions on shorter MIQ stays, which is expected to free up a moderate number of MIQ rooms for overseas returnees.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield will also provide an update on case numbers at 1pm. You can watch the press conference live here.

Health officials this morning have been assessing the level of risk of two cases in Christchurch, one who travelled from Auckland a week ago with a childcare exemption after having tested negative.

The two cases live together with no other people, and a second household has already been identified as close contacts.

A snap lockdown is being considered.

Hipkins said earlier today that they were not frequent users of the Covid Tracer App, and they had been quite unwell and potentially out and about in the city while infectious for several days.

Vaccination coverage of eligible people in Christchurch is 89 per cent with a first dose, and 68 per cent with a second dose. That means there are 100,000 people in the city 12 and over who are less than double-dosed.

Hamilton, Ōtorohanga cases emerge today

Meanwhile, a third person has tested positive in the small King Country town of Ōtorohanga after two cases at the weekend, linked to an outbreak in neighbouring Te Awamutu.

A child who has been attending school in Hamilton has also tested positive for Covid.

Newstead Model Country School was told of the case last night.

Yesterday the Government extended level 3 in Waikato until the end of Monday at least, but eased some restrictions by allowing outdoor picnics and the return of ECE learning – which also applies in level 3 in Auckland.

The Delta outbreak in Waikato has seeded in marginalised communities, prompting concerns that it could mirror the outbreak in Auckland and spread all over the North Island.

Of the 74 cases yesterday, six were in Waikato – all linked – and the rest were in Auckland.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the nature of cases in Waikato was “very concerning”.

“If we can’t contain it in Waikato, there’s no possibility of a firm boundary around Waikato so it’s going to be everywhere in the North Island,” he said.

He wasn’t against allowing outdoor picnics in Waikato if it made the restrictions more sustainable, as long as there was a concerted and targeted public health effort on the ground to reach those marginalised groups.

“That’s the huge lesson from Auckland.”

He has called for measures at the boundary around Auckland to be strengthened, but Hipkins said it was too difficult, logistically and operationally, to require all travellers leaving Auckland to be fully vaccinated.

Hipkins will also announce when shorter MIQ stays will be allowed for overseas returnees.

This was always going to happen, but the Delta has brought it forward because it has changed the risk profile in Auckland, where almost 300 positive cases are isolating at home.

In that context, it doesn’t make sense to keep fully vaccinated returnees who have tested negative in an MIQ room for 14 days when those rooms can be used for positive cases who are at higher risk of spreading the virus.

One of the issues Cabinet has had to grapple with is whether to have a different set of rules of where returnees land or live.

The Government is still chasing zero cases everywhere outside Auckland, which means border controls still need to be tight in cities with MIQ facilities – Wellington, Rotorua, Christchurch, Hamilton – to minimise the chances of the virus leaking into the community.

Hipkins is also expected to say when MIQ will no longer be needed for most returnees, which will be when the Government has decided there is enough population immunity.

That will likely be when the 90 per cent vaccination targets have all been met by each DHB, and the country moves away from alert levels and into the traffic light system.

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