New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)
New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)

The BulletinAugust 23, 2021

The Bulletin: NZ is preparing for a longer lockdown

New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)
New Brighton, August 18, 2021 (Photo by Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto via Getty)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Lockdown could be extended again as infections increase, Fiji’s Covid-19 outbreak escalates and some New Zealanders might be stuck in Afghanistan.

Delta is continuing to spread. At least 72 cases of Covid-19 have now been detected in the community, all in Auckland and Wellington, as the delta cluster continues to grow. Over 10,000 close contacts have been identified across the country at hundreds of locations. Testing centres are also dealing with record volumes. With each passing hour the dragnet is increasing.

This is a different outbreak. What started with a tradie in Devonport less than a week ago is now a national crisis. Close contacts have been identified from Northland to Bluff, leaving no part of New Zealand unaffected. While recent outbreaks could be circled in a defined area and identified, it’s unclear where the edges of this outbreak rest. There’s no central hub or single school that is the focus of attention. The links between cases have become muddied as the number has quickly grown.

Today. Cabinet will meet this afternoon to try to make sense of the situation. Jacinda Ardern will address a press conference at 4pm with a decision on whether to extend lockdown; as always we’ll have all the details as soon as they’re revealed, in our live updates.

It’s unlikely lockdown will lift. As Claire Trevett (paywalled) reports in the NZ Herald, the question isn’t whether lockdown will be extended beyond Tuesday, but by how much. She suggests that people should prepare themselves for another month to six weeks. Cabinet will be focused on the unknown risks that exist, as a number of potential super spreader events have been identified, including church services, large social events and Auckland schools. The director-general of health advised the cabinet on Friday to extend Auckland’s lockdown beyond Tuesday night.

We might not get back to level one. Rodney Jones, who has advised the government through the pandemic, warned in the NZ Herald that the country likely can’t move back to a situation with few domestic restrictions again. With low vaccination rates and the delta variant circling the world, that would be asking for trouble.

Free childcare is being made available for essential workers. The system is designed to help people who don’t have other childcare options in place, reports Stuff. To keep possible exposure small, a carer is expected to either care for a child at their home or at the carer’s home. The stand up of the scheme doesn’t indicate a likely end to lockdown soon.

The source of the outbreak still isn’t clear. However, according to Newsroom, a public walkway by the exercise space for the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility is considered a possible source. A delta-infected arrival from Sydney, genetically linked to the outbreak, stayed at the facility for two days before moving to quarantine. Three people were possibly in the walkway when the infected person arrived at the hotel, separated by little more than orange cones and cheap fencing.

Masks and scanning will help to contain this. The wearing of masks is now mandatory while using essential services and many New Zealanders have taken to putting them on when leaving their homes. Cabinet has also approved mandatory contact tracing, either through scanning or maintaining a personal record, at many businesses and events. That change, however, won’t take effect until a week after a change in alert levels and won’t apply to many places allowed to be open under alert level four. Retail and supermarkets are exempt.

What about the South Island? Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins mentioned yesterday that there’s a possibility of regional lockdowns and borders. A number of University of Otago experts have endorsed the proposal. It’s an idea that will be in front of the cabinet, but any immediate lowering of alert levels will need to face the real possibility that undetected cases are still out there. Any detection of the virus spreading between cases in lockdown would push a red warning alert to bright and flashing.

There’s an issue with children. The other situation we’re dealing with this time around is large groups of young people. At least seven Auckland schools and two universities have been linked to the cluster according to The Spinoff’s live updates. Unlike previous versions of the virus, delta has caused a surge in paediatric cases overseas, reports The Atlantic.

The delta variant has changed the game. Hipkins said yesterday that there’s now concern that some cases in NZ went from infected to infectious in less than a day. That pace of incubation raises questions not only about contact tracing, but the concept of lockdown itself. It’s still worth a go, according to the government.

The minister, in a surprising admission to Q+A, said the government is seriously wondering if the elimination strategy can hold:

“Delta does raise some big questions that we’ll need to grapple with. A less than 24 hour period between someone getting it and passing it on to others, that’s like nothing we’ve dealt with in this pandemic so far. That does change everything. It does mean that all of our existing protections start to look less adequate and less robust as a result of that. So we’re looking very closely at what more we can do there, but yes, it does raise some very big questions about what the long term future of our plans are.”

What could a different strategy look like? That’s really not clear anymore. A story from the New York Times last week looked at the situation in Israel and makes for grim reading. One of the world’s most vaccinated societies is now in the midst of a fourth wave. Data seems to indicate that people who got the Pfizer jab months ago are now at increased risk of disease from the delta variant, although still far less than the unvaccinated. The effectiveness of the jab could be down to 39% compared to 95% at the start of the year. Early indications are that a booster shot pushes that effectiveness back up quickly. What is unmistakably clear, however, is that even if the vaccine is not guaranteed to stop you catching Covid, it massively reduces any chance of being hospitalised, or worse.

The Spinoff is doing our utmost to keep you updated on Covid-19 related news through this outbreak. Every dollar our members contribute directly funds our editorial team and is devoted to ensuring we do more. Click here to learn how you can support the team today.

Nine dying daily in Fiji from Covid-19. Fiji’s outbreak is continuing with over 1,450 cases recorded daily over the past week, reports RNZ. There are over 20,000 active cases in the country and the medical system is beyond struggling to cope with an outbreak that has killed over 400. Businesses have called for more restrictions as cases reach new areas. A mass vaccination campaign is underway.

Australia sets a record for infections, PM vows to stay the course. Despite over 900 infections across a number of states, the country will leave lockdown once 70% of the population is vaccinated, prime minister Scott Morrison has promised. “Lockdowns are not a sustainable way to deal with the virus,” Reuters reports the PM saying. There were violent clashes in Victoria over the weekend between police and anti-lockdown protestors.

Some New Zealanders won’t get out of Afghanistan. The prospect of evacuating everyone, including the country’s allies, is dwindling according to Stuff. Part of the problem is due to the loss of control right outside Kabul’s main airport, making travel too dangerous. If you’re looking to understand the situation better, a recent episode of The Rest is History podcast is a must listen. Hosted by two brainy British historians, you’ll come away confusingly uncertain about your feelings towards the Taliban.

Higher borrowing costs coming. Reserve bank governor Adrian Orr has told Stuff that last week’s decision not to increase rates was meant to protect the country’s “collective fragile psyche” during this Covid-19 outbreak. Assuming this delta cluster gets smashed, expect the cost of borrowing to go up on Oct. 6. New Zealand would still likely be one of the first in the world to hike rates.

On the subject of our national psyche, this is a tough time for everyone. It can be incredibly difficult to watch an expanding list of locations of interest and fear that it’s only a matter of time until you’re on it. That’s made worse by fears of a lockdown that might drag on. Take some time to relax, be kind to yourself, most of us are anxious. We’re in this together.

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Jacinda Ardern addresses media at the Beehive on Saturday. (Photo by Robert Kitchin – Pool/Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Toby Manhire has details on a new poll showing the government’s decision to enter lockdown was very popular. Former ICU doctor Alex Kazemi writes about the system and concludes that it is struggling to maintain current capacity, let alone expand. Amanda Thompson resents the humble tangelo, so she has some ideas of what to do with the fruit. Danyl Mclauchlan takes a wide view of the history of newspapers and concludes that we’re headed for postjournalism. As someone who has spent nearly his entire career in newspapers, this is deeply disturbing. Finally, Duncan Greive woke up from a nap and wrote about all the places he’s fallen into a slumber for sleep week.

For a feature today, the end of Alexa. The word has probably never been said more often by humanity, but the name Alexa is dying a quick death for people due to Amazon’s digital helper. This isn’t the first time a name has become closely tied to a product, but something seems to be different about Alexa. The Atlantic takes a look:

At first, the number of baby Alexas spiked following the voice assistant’s rollout in late 2014—perhaps parents heard the name in the news and liked it—but it has since crashed. Likely, parents began to realize that having the name could be a nuisance, or worse, could become associated with subservience, because people are always giving orders to their virtual Alexas.

He squashed it. Paul Coll became the first New Zealand man to win the British Open squash title overnight, reports Newshub. He had a remarkable run at the tournament, beating the world’s top player and overcoming a slow start to power through a tough final.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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