Covid 19 coronavirus: Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield say risk of Delta outbreak means relook at alert settings

The risk of a Delta outbreak means a relook at New Zealand’s alert level settings, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins says.

Officials were “adjusting our response” because of Covid variants emerging around the world, Hipkins said.

This included in Sydney, Australia, which is into its seventh week of lockdown amid still-rising case numbers and deaths.

Hipkins told media at today’s Covid update that the adjustment meant – if there was a case of an outbreak – New Zealand would likely see a quicker move to level 4.

A “short sharp lockdown” was preferable to a drawn-out response, he said.

Further lockdowns were possible, would come with little notice and everybody should have a plan of what to do in those circumstances, he said.

“This is not over,” Hipkins said of Covid-19.

'Swift and severe'

In case of a Delta outbreak, Hipkins said the response would be “swift and severe”, and potentially even one community case could send the country into level 4 lockdown.

Health systems around the world had been quickly overwhelmedby Covid outbreaks, Hipkins said. DHBs had been working to increase capacity, ICU beds, ventilators and oxygen supply as part of contingency supply.

Bloomfield said there was now a well-developed ICU network across the country. The challenge was not so much the beds but having capable staff. There had been training since last April to increase staff numbers, Bloomfield said.

An announcement around compulsory QR scanning and mask use was expected in the next week or two, Hipkins said.

Regarding mask use, Hipkins said that would be part of a response approach, introduced at different alert levels.

On QR scanning, Hipkins said this was a crucial part of the response to combat Delta. He was not happy with the current low rates of use, and there would also be an announcement on new measures to increase usage shortly, he said.

Vaccine numbers

Hipkins said 2,293,000 vaccine doses had been administered as of midnight last night. Nearly 850,000 Kiwis are now fully vaccinated against Covid.

As of August 1, vaccine uptake among Māori and Pasifika aged 55 and over was “by and large” the same as for the rest of the population, Bloomfield said.

Rates below 54 were about the same for Pasifika, but lower for Māori. Bloomfield expected this discrepancy for Māori to increase as the rollout progressed.

Hipkins said he did not support having a vaccine target. He said he wanted to aim for everybody having the vaccine.

Contracted port worker vaccinations 'a problem'

About 61 per cent of port workers were fully vaccinated and another 9 per cent had received one dose, Hipkins said.

Not including the ports at Auckland, Wellington and Nelson, about 85 per cent of workers were fully vaccinated.

The main ongoing issues was around contractors, most of which had less than half their staff vaccinated, Hipkins said.

“It is the contracted workers at the ports proving the most challenging and difficult to budge.”

Hipkins named five port contracting companies and gave their current vaccination rates.

ISO Ltd had 200 workers vaccinated and 230 unvaccinated, C3 Ltd had 206 vaccinated and 201 unvaccinated, SSANZ Ltd had 157 vaccinated and 107 unvaccinated, Independent Stevedoring 63 vaccinated and 87 unvaccinated, and Wallace Investments 123 vaccinated and 60 unvaccinated.

Saliva testing

Hipkins said saliva testing was rolling out from today at a range of sites across the country.

The numbers for saliva testing up until now had been “not good”, Hipkins said. That was expected to increase from now as more sites came on board.

Today's numbers

There are no community cases in New Zealand today. There were two cases in managed isolation, Bloomfield said.

The two new cases in MIQ included a returnee from Sri Lanka and one from Mexico.

Two previously reported cases have now recovered, with the number of active cases in New Zealand at 37.

Since January 1, there have been 116 historical cases from a total of 730 cases.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is four, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 2548.

The Rio de la Plata

All tests from the Rio de la Plata outbreak had returned negative results aside from six that were outstanding, Bloomfield said.

The crew remained asymptomatic and the ship had now left New Zealand.

Genomic sequencing found the eight infected crew members had the Delta variant, and were linked to a Queensland pilot who had guided them along the Great Barrier Reef.

Mariners from the Mattina container ship currently in quarantine in Bluff also continue to recover from Covid-19.

As of Wednesday morning, 13 of the original 21 mariners remain on board the vessel.

Five crew members who returned negative Covid-19 test results, including the captain, have now completed 14 days’ managed isolation. A sixth mariner, who has serological evidence of an historical Covid-19 infection, remains in managed isolation in Christchurch.

Of the 15 mariners who tested positive, three are considered by local public health officials to not yet meet the definition of having recovered.

Indonesia, Fiji 'very high risk'

Meanwhile, Indonesia and Fiji have been designated as “very high risk” Covid locations and travel from the two countries to New Zealand will be limited.

Hipkins earlier today said escalating case numbers meant as of 11.59pm (NZT) on August 15, travel to New Zealand from Indonesia and Fiji would be restricted to New Zealand citizens, their partners and children, and parents of dependent children who are New Zealand citizens (together with any children of those parents who are not New Zealand citizens).

Travellers from very high risk countries, including New Zealand residents, are required to spend 14 days outside of Indonesia before flying to New Zealand.

The “very high risk” category was introduced in April this year to reduce the risk of a large number of infected people flying to New Zealand.

Initially India, Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea were designated very high risk, and Fiji and Indonesia had now been added to the list.

“Currently there are more than 24,000 active cases of Covid-19 in Fiji, with the outbreak which began in April continuing to escalate,” Hipkins said.

“Public health advice suggests steps must be taken now to minimise the risk of Covid-19 entering unimpeded through our border.”

Earlier today

Meanwhile, a container ship struck by Covid-19 this morning left from Tauranga for Malaysia with infected crew members still on board.

The Rio de la Plata has been anchored off Tauranga for the last few days after it was confirmed this week that 11 of 21 of its crew members had tested positive for Covid.

Despite the confirmation a number of crew members have caught Covid, authorities say they remain asymptomatic.

The Ministry of Health reported last night the last test result for a Port of Tauranga worker had come back negative for the virus.

A total of 110 people had to be tested for Covid-19 after being potentially exposed to the virus when the container ship was brought into the port at Tauranga.

As of Monday 2.2 million doses had been administered, and 820,000 people were then
fully vaccinated.

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