Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Race to vaccinate Auckland; no new unlinked cases for two days in a row

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Auckland has been given the best news it has had since the start of the outbreak – there have been no new unlinked cases for two days in a row.

And there’s more good news, with the Government pegging Auckland could hit a vaccine milestone next week.

There were no unlinked cases reported on Tuesday and officials were able to find a link for the single unlinked case reported on Monday.

There were 15 community cases, but all of these were linked to existing cases.

What that means is officials have growing certainty that the latest outbreak is contained. The news is especially welcome after a spate of cases arriving at Middlemore Hospital suggested unlinked chains of transmission in the community.

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The city is not out of the woods yet. The focus is still widespread testing in seven key suburbs to ensure there are no undetected chains of transmission.

Testing remains high in Auckland, where 7823 tests were conducted on Monday, compared with 12,443 in the rest of the country. That rate of testing is slightly below where it was last week, where some days more than 8000 tests were reported in the city.

The Government is sticking by its decision to shift Auckland’s Covid alert level from 4 to 3 next week – all going well.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stuck with this strategy on Tuesday, noting the Government intended this week would be the last week the city would spend under level 4 restrictions.

“There is nothing holding us back in Auckland when it comes to vaccines. There is capacity to administer 220,000 doses of the vaccine in the region this week, if around 130 [thousand] of those are people’s first dose, Aucklanders will hit 80 per cent coverage of first vaccinations in one week’s time,” Ardern said.

This would mean 80 per cent of Aucklanders over 12 having some protection against the virus.

Ardern said this would mean fewer people getting Covid in the first place, or getting seriously ill if they did contract Covid – meaning it would be a gamechanger in fighting the virus.

She urged Aucklanders to come forward and get a booking, noting there were 90,000 available vaccination spots in Auckland this week, as measured by the vaccine booking system.

But the large number of available vaccination places could be a problem too – evidence that the vaccination surge of the past month may be starting to level off. Other nations have struggled to get vaccination rates of 80 per cent.

England, a vaccine leader, has managed to give 89 per cent of its adult population (aged 16 and over) one dose – and just 67 per cent of Londoners have had their first dose.

Other countries have found that demand for vaccine drops off later in the outbreak, as fewer and fewer people want to be vaccinated.

New Zealand has also seen something of a drop-off. On Monday, just 55,000 doses of the vaccine were administered – well down from the 80-90,000 doses that were being given at the peak of the outbreak.

Ardern said that some drop-off was to be expected.

National’s Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said he was “worried by the low numbers”.

“We really should be going as hard as we possibly can to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” he said.

“The peak [of daily vaccinations] was three weeks ago, we would want to maintain that peak ideally,” Bishop said.

“We should be going door to door in South Auckland in particular and encouraging people to get vaccinated,” he said.

Ardern said something like this would be launched in Northland on Thursday when a “Mr Whippy-style mobile vaccination bus” would hit the road.

“The initial plan is to take them into areas where we know vaccination numbers have been low or people have not been able to access vaccination services as easily,” Ardern said.

“The aim is to increase the network from its expected six on Thursday to 12 over the coming week.”

Rodney Jones, who has provided modelling advice to the Government for this outbreak said that Auckland could move to alert level 3 next week, as planned.

“It was right to wait this week, but a move to level 3 makes sense for next week,” Jones said.

He was the Government would still need to “wait and see” what the pandemic delivered over the next few days.

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