As the rest of the country outside Auckland and Northland prepare to drop down alert levels at midnight, a further drop in Covid-19 community cases today added to optimism Aotearoa is getting on top of the Delta outbreak.
The Ministry of Health announced 49 new infections, all in Auckland, which brings the total number of cases to 612.
“Of the cases yesterday, only 23 percent are considered to have been infectious in the community,” Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said this afternoon.
Bloomfield was less optimistic about locating the original source of the Delta variant outbreak, admitting today health officials may never find it.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted “the tail of this outbreak to be as short as possible”.
“Every day for me is another step, a bit of progress, but I want to see sustained reductions … we’ve still got a journey to go through.”
Prison officer infected
In a worrying development though, Bloomfield confirmed a staff member a Springfield Corrections facility had tested positive for Covid-19 and 23 other employees had contact with the person. All were self-isolating.
About 120 people in the Waikato facility were in contact with the Corrections officer. Inmates were being tested. The officer had been fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the infected officer had done the right thing, and there were plans in place to deal with the unfolding scenario.
“This person, who was fully vaccinated, did the right thing after realising they had visited a location of interest. Despite showing no symptoms they went and got tested and I want to thank them for their vigilance,” he said.
Checkpoints being set up
As rain continues to bucket down this evening, police are establishing checkpoints in the southern part of Auckland in preparation for the change to alert level 3 outside Northland and Auckland.
Police superintendent Shanan Gray told Checkpoint police will seek to educate people, but won’t be lenient with those intentionally breaking the rules.
“We don’t want to move to enforcing people that are trying to push through the borders, but obviously, if it’s absolutely blatant, then maybe we need to go down that path. But our initial approach will be to educate people.”
Officers are setting up southern checkpoints in at SH1/Mercer off ramp (southbound traffic); SH1/Oram Rd (northbound traffic); Mangatawhiri Rd/SH2; East Coast Rd (Waharau Regional Park); SH22/Pukekawa-Churchill Rd and Logan Rd.
They intend to have all the checkpoints operating by 11pm tonight, stopping vehicles and questioning drivers.
Northland will continue to operate three checkpoints at the southern entry into the region at the SH1 intersection with SH12; Mountain Road, Kaiwaka and Cove Road, by Bream Tail Road.
Meanwhile, police have agreed to set up two static checkpointstracking vehicle movements through Ngāti Porou rohe, after officers shut down an illegal hapū-led checkpoint in Te Araroa on the East Coast.
“No vaccine shortage’
Earlier today, Ardern told Morning Report the country was not running out of vaccines.
“It’s simply a question of – given at this point in time, we’ve got a much larger number of people coming through – can we continue to meet that surge when we’ve got limited supply,” she said.
“We’ve got 840,000 doses in the country and about 500,000 being administered on a weekly basis. We planned and we had enough supply for 350,000 a week.”
Ardern said the government was “working hard to increase supply” and would discuss the situation further later on in the week.
Auckland must be vaccination priority – Goff
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said his city needed to be a priority in the vaccine effort.
He told Morning Report that as the gateway city to the rest of the world, Auckland was at greatest risk and needed to have the most effort put in.
“You give priority to vaccination where the risk is greatest and it’s pretty easy to see where the risk is greatest at the moment.
“We’ve got the majority of the quarantine facilities in Auckland, so we’ve already been at a higher level of alert over the last 18 months for a month longer than other areas, and we’ll be doing that again.”
Goff said approximately 25,000 people were being vaccinated daily in the city.
Low dose of vaccine
As the vaccine effort rolled on today, a couple who may have got a saline or low dose injection instead of the Pfizer vaccine said they still didn’t know if they needed a booster shot and added andwere getting the run around from health officials.
RNZ last week revealed the Ministry of Health could not rule out that five people may have been give a low or no dose on 12 July at the Highbrook Vaccination Clinic in Auckland.
After the story broke, Bloomfield said all 732 people vaccinated that day would be contacted within 24 hours.
Beniest got an email about the possible mix-up within a day of the news breaking but, five days on, Grace had heard nothing.
They said health officials were advising them to ring an 0800 number but they were now being repeatedly ‘fobbed off’.
As MPs travelled to a reopened Parliament today, Ardern expressed disappointment in the decision by Opposition parties to reject an online sitting of Parliament as a safer alternative.
“It is a disappointment that we could not have been as agile as the rest of New Zealand, she said.
“Our view was that moving to an online forum would have allowed opposition MPs to have access to MPs from across the country.”
Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins was questioned over how many people were waiting transportation to MIQ, as MPs socially distanced during Question Time.
Hipkins said he received an update this morning that between 50 to 60 people were awaiting transportation, and that a lag in MIQ processes was being looking into. He said the vast were moved to MIQ within 48 hours of testing positive.
Govt spends $1.25 billion on support payments
As Auckland businesses face an extended stint in lockdown, there were calls today for government help to be extended.
Businesses already receive a one-off subsidy to help with overheads, such as rent. The government has paid out $1.25 billion in wage subsidy and Covid-19 resurgence payments since lockdown began.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss Michael Barnett told Nine to Noon a petition calling on the government to increase its support gathered more than 15,000 signatures from businesses in six hours.
During questioning in Parliament, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said $876m has been paid out from the wage subsidy scheme since 18 August.
“As of today, the resurgence support payment has paid out $378 million dollars, covering 122,231 applications.
“In addition to that, around a million dollars has been spent covering Leave Support Scheme and Short-term Absence Payment.”
Robertson said payments were tracking behind estimates that schemes would cost $2 billion over two weeks at alert level 4.
Businesses prep for level 3
Meanwhile, many businesses across the country have been prepping, looking forward to being back at work tomorrow.
Wellington restaurants and cafes got geared up today for contactless takeaways and deliveries, but health restrictions mean they were keeping expectations about takings modest.
19 Protesters arrested
Police arrested 19 people at small anti-lockdown protests outside government and local council buildings around the country this morning.
In Northland, two people were arrested, one each outside the Kaikohe and Whangārei council buildings. The Whangārei protester was subsequently released and issued with an infringement notice.
In Auckland, four people were arrested at a small protest outside Government House in Epsom. Two infringement notices were also issued.
Waikato Police arrested three people for failing to comply with the Health Order after responding to a group of protesters gathered in Civic Square, Hamilton.
Six people were arrested by Bay of Plenty Police following a gathering outside the Tauranga City Council building.
Another small gathering was reported in Taupō, with one arrest made.
Central District Police responded to small groups of protesters outside council buildings in New Plymouth, Whanganui and Manawatū. Two people were arrested at the Whanganui protest.
In Christchurch, one person was arrested following a protest also outside a council building.
“Police have a low tolerance for anyone who deliberately ignores the restrictions in the current situation. Today’s arrests reflect that,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.