A big week for the Covid response

This was one of most consequential weeks yet for the country’s approach to Covid-19 and here are the highlights, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

A confusing and important week for New Zealand. It’s getting easier to chart the road to Christmas after what has been one of the most tumultuous and consequential weeks in New Zealand’s Covid-19 response. From Monday, there has been a fair amount of improvised decision making, muddled communications and second-guessing. Put another way, the country caught up with a year’s worth of the Covid announcements and debates seen overseas in a single week.

Here are some highlights:

The elimination strategy is now past tense, but restrictions aren’t. The prime minister announced on Monday that the country can’t eliminate Covid-19 as the delta variant has continued to spread in Auckland and Waikato. However, the partial lockdown and restrictions of level three aren’t going anywhere soon. Opposition leader Judith Collins told Stuff she’d like to see Auckland’s lockdown lifted by Christmas.

There’s a new three-step ladder for Auckland. Before the city can leave level three, it has to go up three steps. The first one, which has been in effect since Wednesday, allows picnics and outdoor gatherings between two bubbles. Step two allows retail and public facilities to open, while hospitality and larger groups can gather in step three.

Level three settings have twice been extended in Waikato. Parts of Waikato, including Hamilton, were put into level three lockdown on Sunday. With 22 cases in the region as of Thursday, the lockdown has been extended further south and now includes Te Kūiti.

The spread of Covid-19 by gang members has become a focus. Stuff reports that “quite a number” of gang members were infected in the country’s latest outbreak, according to the Covid-19 response minister. Stuff understands that border breaches by some gang members may have contributed to the spread of the virus into Waikato.

Vaccine certificates are coming next month. Some of the details haven’t been ironed out yet, but it’s likely large events this summer will only be open to vaccinated people carrying proof in the form of a QR code.

The vaccine gap has been shrunk to three weeks. After officials widened the gap between doses in August to six weeks—using new research overseas that the gap might make the jab more effective—they’ve now shrunk it back to three weeks. Part of the reasoning is to get more people fully vaccinated before new vaccine restrictions come into play.

Some vaccine mandates are coming. Cabinet is considering requiring vaccination for teachers, as reported by the NZ Herald. Outside of border staff, mandates are seen as a last-resort by the government. However, all non-citizens arriving in the country from next month will need to be fully vaccinated and travel a fortnight after their second dose.

An election-style vaccination event is planned. Officials have set October 16 as a big push to get jabs for the minority who are still unvaccinated. Public leaders will be out and there’s hope that the equivalent of the entire population of Wellington could be vaccinated on that one day.

There’s a renewed emphasis on saliva and rapid testing after a critical report. The government has pledged to roll out rapid antigen testing in Auckland hospitals within days after a review concluded it has been too slow to act. The rapid tests will also be used in the upcoming home-isolation trials for a few business travellers.

Charges after a big anti-lockdown protest. Destiny Church’s Brian Tamaki and a second person have been charged for the protest at the Auckland Domain where over 1,000 people gathered. A second protest is planned in the near future.

There’s been an outcry over low Māori vaccination rates. The group has the lowest vaccine uptake among the four ethnicities tracked by the health ministry. The situation is made worse by poverty, overcrowding in homes and a suspicion of government that’s frankly well-earned.

The pressure on the country’s hospitals is becoming clearer. Intensive care specialists warned this week that the country’s Covid-19 plan won’t work without elimination due to staffing shortages in ICU. The government’s plan to surge capacity in hospitals would require shutting down most other activities in the health sector and aren’t sustainable in the longer term.

The country’s 28th Covid death was reported. According to One News, the man, a father of five, was a leader at the Assembly of God Church in South Auckland. He spent 40 days in Middlemore’s ICU and his wife is still in hospital battling the virus.


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