ANALYSIS: This week, and probably for a few more after, we will see the last gasp of alert level decisions.
Hopefully by the end of the first quarter of next year, the memory of alert levels will be receding from sight as life gets back to more normal and there is a general acceptance of Covid-19 in the community.
However, on Monday afternoon at 4pm there will be decisions being made on Auckland, Northland and Waikato.
Northland seems a no-brainer. It looks like it should go back to alert level 2. There haven’t been any extra cases pop up there for a few days.
Waikato, similarly, seems like a no-brainer – except in the other direction. There were another four reported cases in Waikato on Sunday. Clearly Covid-19 is still floating around Waikato – not least in the wastewater – and not all the sources of it are known yet.
In a way, getting the case numbers down in Waikato is of more immediate importance to the Government than Auckland. Because of its relatively porous border, chances of the virus getting out once entrenched are greater than in Auckland.
That matters because the Government is still effectively running an elimination strategy outside of Auckland, while doing suppression inside, and it doesn’t want to have to lock down other parts of the country while getting vaccination rates up.
In Auckland, the question facing the Government will be whether to move the city to the next step of fewer restrictions: this would involve the reopening of retail, public places such as zoos, libraries and museums, and increased limits to weddings and funerals of 25 people.
On the face of it, it seems highly unlikely that this will occur. Clearly Covid is in Auckland to stay and the trend line of cases is rising. But until full vaccination rates are higher, it is unlikely more restrictions will be eased.
The big vaxathon on Saturday clearly helped – Auckland is now almost up at 90 per cent first doses, but it’s the full course that is of the most public health interest.
According to the Ministry of Health’s figures 85 per cent of the population nationally has had one jab of vaccine, while 65 per cent have had two doses. In Auckland, however, first doses are 89 per cent while second doses are at 71 per cent.
Second dose figures in Auckland are starting to really rise now, but it is unlikely to be enough for the Government to ease up immediately. It has consistently said that it wants everyone eligible to have the chance to get vaccinated this year. While clearly everyone has had the chance, that’s a lot of people still waiting on their second jab.
For that reason, more liberalising in Auckland looks unlikely.
It is difficult seeing these sorts of alert level decisions last more than a few weeks, and the Government is expected to announce a raft of changes to how it manages Covid-19 this week. Monday will most likely focus on the alert levels, but the PM may give a taster of what is to come later in the week.
Behind closed doors the Government stresses that the plan will still, more or less, be what was broadly signalled in its ‘Reconnecting New Zealand’ work in mid- August, just prior to the lockdown – although Delta has sped it up dramatically.
On Friday, the Australian state of New South Wales announced that, come November 1, it would be allowing all fully vaccinated travellers to NSW – be they residents, tourists, or anyone else – to come to the state without quarantine or even self-isolation. (Scott Morrison and the Australian Government quickly scotched that suggestion for non-Australians for a bunch of pretty weak reasons, not least of which is the frenemy-style relationship between Morrison and new NSW premier and fellow Liberal Dominic Perrottet).
Quarantine-free travel to Australia from the South Island will now be restarted for the fully vaccinated.
But the point is, at an 80 per cent vaccination rate, NSW is only a few weeks ahead of New Zealand.
But NSW, with its population of 8-odd million has gone through its big Covid wave, it is now down to about 300 cases per day and falling. New Zealand’s reopening – or even further spread of Covid-19 in Auckland beforehand – will take place with a far more vaccinated population than in NSW or Victoria at similar stages of their outbreaks.
But that won’t give much succour to desperate business and residents of Auckland destined to be looking at the same four walls for another week or few. A firm plan of what will happen when, dished up this week, might.
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