PM Jacinda Ardern and deputy PM Grant Robertson (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Waikato locks down as Auckland decision looms

The prime minister says Auckland’s delta outbreak from August is now effectively over as new cases appear across the border in Waikato, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

New Zealand is now facing a second outbreak after cases were detected in Waikato. Speaking yesterday at an unscheduled press conference, the prime minister didn’t rule out a move to level two for Auckland this week despite two new infections detected south of the city. With swathes of Waikato now in level three lockdown, Jacinda Ardern said the delta outbreak that started in August has now “essentially ended” and the country faces a second outbreak centred around five active sub-clusters. She promised to share a “roadmap” for ending Auckland’s restrictions this afternoon after a cabinet meeting. However, a return to level four lockdown won’t be part of the plan.

The Spinoff’s live updates has all the details on the new level three lockdown in parts of Waikato.

There’s a near unanimous call from experts urging the government not to move Auckland to level two. The weekend was a difficult one for New Zealand’s Covid-19 response. Two new cases were detected in Waikato that haven’t yet been linked to the Auckland outbreak, an Auckland-based truck driver found himself in Palmerston North when his positive test came through and a large protest was mounted in the middle of the country’s largest city against restrictions. As Newsroom reports, experts say it’s too early to move Auckland out of lockdown when mystery cases are still appearing every day. Even the prime minister’s chief science advisor tweeted out, in response to the story above, that the consensus is clear.

David Welch, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, told the Science Media Centre that the current alert level might not be enough:

“With an increase of cases and in particular unlinked cases over the last few days, it is clear that level three is not working to eliminate the outbreak. Modelling suggested that the move from level four to level three was a risk. We have not landed on the right side of that risk.”

There seems to be a shift in emphasis from the government’s approach. Getting into a debate on the elimination strategy isn’t very helpful, but it does appear that the definition is changing. As Stuff reports, the strategy is at a possible fork in the road with cases spilling over Auckland’s border following seven weeks of lockdown and the creation of what is, in effect, a large pocket of restrictions within a different region. The prime minister said this latest lockdown could have been avoided if more people were vaccinated, which is likely true, but even the director-general of health only got his second jab yesterday. Testing will also need to pick up now in Palmerston North, with the Manawatū Standard reporting that queues were longer at a McDonald’s than a neighbouring testing centre.

Keeping a lid on Covid-19. Both National and Act claimed yesterday that the government has “lost control” of the outbreak. As cabinet meets today, it’ll be weighing its options carefully, including the public’s mood for a longer lockdown in Auckland. I had expected an inevitable announcement yesterday from the prime minister that Auckland’s restrictions had been extended. It seems unlikely that cabinet didn’t consider it as it voted to move parts of Waikato to level three. Instead, Ardern seemed to set up a reason to end Auckland’s lockdown by stating that the city’s August outbreak is effectively over despite 163 new cases over the past week. The NZ Herald reports that data modeller Shaun Hendy has said the city should stay in level three until 90% of its eligible population is vaccinated, something that could take many more weeks. While cabinet might not vote tomorrow to end Auckland’s lockdown, it likely won’t be willing to wait that long either.

New locations of interest from Covid-19 cases reported in Auckland yesterday up to 9pm.


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