Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Level 2 for all but Auckland, focus on stamping out last cases

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It is level 2 for the country, aside from Auckland, come midnight – with the focus now firmly on stamping out Delta in our biggest city.

It comes after another day of low case numbers.

But testing rates dropped to the lowest point of the outbreak, and authorities say those numbers need to pick up dramatically to allow a drop in alert levels next week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday what she called “Delta level 2” for the country outside Auckland’s borders, to keep up with the more-infectious variant that had “changed the game”.

This means masks in many indoor venues and smaller limits on gatherings, along with other measures to reduce the risk of any community transmission.

Mask use in schools will be “highly recommended” but not compulsory.

The alert level move came off the back of three days of cases hovering around 20 daily – well down on the peak of 84 just over a week ago.

There are now 821 cases in the outbreak, including 804 in Auckland and 17 in Wellington.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said today that it should be mandatory for high school students should wear masks when school resumes on Thursday.

Teenagers was an age group where Delta had proved highly transmissible internationally.

The outbreak situation was looking very optimistic at the moment and the virus could be eliminated from New Zealand.

He said after a period of adjustment it may see New Zealand land on a revised level 1.

Level 1 would look looser, but warned it may not have quite the same freedoms as the past 18 months, he told Newshub.

Baker wasn’t “absolutely certain” Auckland would move out of level 4 next week. He said while case numbers were dropping, it was the mystery cases that were concerning.

PM's concern at mystery cases

The low daily case numbers give cause for optimism, however Ardern said they were still concerned about the prevalence of mystery cases, those not yet linked to other cases, of which there were now 33. At the peak of the outbreak the numbers were around 60.

These numbers would need to be slashed even further ahead of any changes to alert levels come Cabinet’s alert level decisions next Monday.

The number of tests has also fallen dramatically, with just 2088 in Auckland on Sunday and 4750 across the whole country – well down from the daily average of over 20,000 at the peak of the outbreak.

This was largely due to fewer new locations of interest and the lockdown’s impact on the spread of respiratory illnesses.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said those rates needed to boost up again ahead of any alert level change in the city, urging anyone with symptoms to get tested.

“The big focus is on Auckland and making sure we do everything we can to support efforts there and get confidence the outbreak is well controlled there.”

Consequently the Ministry of Health would be stepping up surveillance testing in healthcare, border, quarantine and essential workers. It was also introducing more saliva testing locations.

“Delta level 2” includes many of the old measures, with just a few tighter restrictions.

Schools outside Auckland will be able to operate once again from Thursday.

Face masks must be worn inside most public venues, including shops, malls, and public spaces, but could be removed for eating and drinking.

Masks would not be compulsory at schools, nor universities, but Bloomfield said they were “highly recommended”.

New rules on scanning also applied at level 2 – mandatory scanning at bars, restaurants, cinemas, churches, hairdressers and anywhere where there was close contact between people.

As well, there will be a limit of 50 people at hospitality and event venues, while outdoor venues can have up to 100 people.

Distancing requirements had increased from one to two metres, meaning venues not captured by the crowd limits would also have reduced capacity at level 2.

The alert level change has been welcomed by experts, with most calling for a level 2 shift ahead of the announcement.

Otago University’s Professor Nick Wilson said that, along with keeping places like pubs, restaurants, gyms and churches shut at level 2, the Government could have imposed more comprehensive indoor mask requirements.

Wilson also argued more attention was needed to tighten the border around Auckland.

The alert level change moved the country to a level 4 and level 2 split for the first time.

Bloomfield said he was not nervous about this given there were appropriate border controls.

Authorised people would be able to travel through Auckland under certain conditions.

Essential workers travelling between the regions would also need to be tested once a week, with saliva testing available.

National Party Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said increased saliva testing options was a good move but should have come sooner.

“It is ridiculous that in this current outbreak people have had to line up for 10-12 hours to get a nasal PCR test.

“It will have meant some people would’ve simply given up or not even bothered to go and get a test.

“Yet again the Government has been caught out with minimal planning for a Delta outbreak.”

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