Covid-19 is reminding the country not to underestimate it, with its ambush in Auckland.
The coronavirus has a say in how long we have to reckon with it, even if we’ve had months of feeling in control of the situation.
The Delta variant is currently shredding New Zealand’s best-laid plans for an orderly vaccination rollout and an easing of restrictions early next year. It may end up delaying that whole process.
Alternatively, the breakout centred on Auckland could concentrate minds on the goal at hand and be a spur to getting the rollout done.
Plans for a less-threatening pandemic future are just plans. Any reopening has to be from a position of strength against the coronavirus. The country’s current vaccination levels don’t allow for that and have to be as high as possible.
By mid-week, the country should get an idea of whether the lockdown is succeeding in bringing case numbers down.
Auckland, and most probably the entire country, looks almost certain to have its stay in level 4 lockdown extended.
The cluster was still growing at the weekend, blanketing thousands of people as contacts, taking in more locations of interest, netting different areas of the North Island from Warkworth to Wellington.
The numbers for tests and vaccinations have brought the anxiety underneath our “normal” existence this year to the surface. On Friday there were 41,464 Covid tests processed, 56,843 vaccinations delivered and 150,000 vaccine bookings made, according to official figures. Saturday’s figures were slightly less.
We had got so used to going about our business, with occasional Covid near-misses, that the collective fear factor was a faint pulse. This jolt is far more like the original lockdown last year, though without the strangeness of the new. It’s 18 months on, after all.
That sudden urgency needs to be bottled so people feel motivated to get vaccinated – the only way out of the pandemic. A drive-through vaccination centre has been set up at the airport but reportedly only for a week.
Staffing levels for the test and tracing system, vaccination centres, and hospitals – as well as at the city’s supermarkets – have come under major stress. Covid visit recording is becoming mandatory.
Although New South Wales is held up as an example to avoid in a Delta outbreak, another Australian state, Queensland, offers some hope New Zealand can get back on track.
Queensland eased some restrictions on Friday and recorded no local Covid infections on Saturday or Sunday after a Delta outbreak this month of 145 cases. There were 39 active cases at the weekend.
At the peak of the outbreak, 19,000 people were having to self-isolate.
The state has also seen an increase in vaccinations, with a Queensland record of 20,420 on Friday.
Griffith University infectious diseases expert Professor Nigel McMillan told the ABC a fast lockdown and high testing rates were key.
“We went early and we went pretty hard, and we’ve had a good mask-wearing mandate. We had really good buy-in from people in terms of testing and that gave us confidence to come out of lockdown.”
He said snap lockdowns would have to be the state’s response until vaccinations reached 70 per cent and that Covid vaccines would have to be updated to better handle Delta.
Both observations seem relevant to New Zealand’s situation going forward.
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