Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Auckland’s big move and learning to live with Covid in the community

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As Aucklanders get set for a life of more freedoms, despite remaining in alert level 3, experts say people will now have to get used to the idea of living with Covid in the community.

Yesterday, 29 new cases of Covid were identified in the community – all but one in Auckland. One was recorded in the Waikato region.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday revealed an Auckland road map that effectively showed how the city would come out of a strict alert level 3 as we know it.

The first phase will come into effect just before midnight tonight and will allow up to 10 people from a maximum of two households to come together in an outdoor setting. They must not move their gathering inside.

Also today, a liquor store in Raglan has been named as a location of interest.

The Ministry of Health has revealed more exposure events and locations of interest linked to people with Covid-19.

The Raglan Liquor in Bow St is a location of interest.

A total of four people are infected in Raglan, with the first case revealed on Sunday. Three more household contacts were confirmed yesterday.

The Raglan Liquor store was visited three days ago on Saturday between 5.40pm and 5.45pm.

ECEs to reopen

Early childcare centres will also be allowed to open up again, but with children split into bubbles of 10. Parents must wear masks when dropping off and picking up their youngsters and teachers must get a Covid test.

People can once again move around the city and recreational activities including going to the beach, hunting and fishing in a boat are once again allowed. Again, however, people must stay outside in groups of no more than 10 people from two households.

The 10-people limit for funerals, tangihanga, weddings and civil union ceremonies remains in place.

There have been mixed reactions to the announcement from health experts, people from various sectors of society and ordinary members of the public – with some saying the move will be detrimental and lead to a surge in community cases and hospitalisations.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles said she was disappointed after yesterday’s announcement.

“I’m kind of gutted, I guess,” she told TVNZ’s Breakfast show this morning.

She had hoped that this next step – learning to manage and suppress the virus – would not have had to happen until next year.

Wiles said New Zealanders now had to get used to the idea that alert level 1 was now out.

Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy told the programme we need to get used to the idea that the virus will now be in the community.

“People have to be cautious.”

The chances of members of the public to get the virus, if unvaccinated, will now be higher. The likeliness of being hospitalised if you catch Covid is also now higher.

Immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotunu said her preference would have been to see the restrictions reduced only after the vaccination rate was at a higher percentage.

There was still a lot of work to do in terms of getting our most vulnerable communities vaccinated – including Pacific and Māori.

Calls for mandated vaccinations for people working in some sectors

Wiles said she wants to see vaccination mandates in schools. If a teacher is not vaccinated against Covid-19, they should not be working at a school.

She acknowledged that unvaccinated teaching staff would risk passing on the virus to the children or young people they taught. The risk of that happening was even higher given many children are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

Hendy also supported vaccine mandates in some parts of society, saying it will be important in order to protect the public.

Information from overseas shows people are more cautious when there is Covid in the community and people are less likely to go out to businesses, for example.

'My stomach dropped' – early childcare teacher

News that early childhood education centres will be able to open from tomorrow caused some confusion among teaching staff and centres themselves.

Despite the announcement yesterday, some Auckland ECE centres have reportedly told parents that there will be no changes to their policy and they will remain closed.

ECE teacher Imogen Held told the Breakfast show of her shock at the announcement.

“My stomach dropped. I feel real fear for my colleagues,” she said.

She felt for those colleagues who may feel uneasy about going back to work; especially if they are in an alert level 3 environment or if they have a vulnerable person within their family.

She also described there being “rogue” employers within the ECE sector who may not be as forthcoming about sticking to the new rules – including having children in separate bubbles of a maximum of 10.

Among some centres, Held said, employers made it a rule that teachers were not allowed to wear masks.

Business sector will still suffer in new phase approach

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief Michael Barnett said the business sector was “absolutely ignored” during this first phase of the road map; while the next two phases are vague, with no dates of when they will happen.

Speaking to Three’s AM Show this morning, Barnett said he wanted clear conditions under which the city would move to the next phase.

“Most businesses are suffering at the moment,” he said.

Many businesses, including those in the hospitality industry, had become burned in debt over the last two months in lockdown.

Businesses were grateful for the resurgence payment. But it should be every week, not every three weeks, he said.

Economist Cameron Bagrie said the new road map was not great for the country’s economy.

Referring to the R rate, or the effective reproduction number rating how the virus is spreading, he said: “The R rate is more than one, so we’re going to see case numbers increase.”

That made it a two-horse race between the Delta strain spreading and the rate of vaccination before dropping to an alert level where businesses could make money.

He told the AM Show that all the traditional indicators, such as inflation, were telling the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates. But New Zealand was not in a conventional world right now.

“If I was the Reserve Bank, in all honesty, tomorrow I’d actually be pausing.”

They could raise the rate to 50 basis points in November if they wanted. But during lockdown, it did not seem right to raise interest rates.

Bagrie said he expected pent-up demand and excitement as people moved down alert levels, which would contribute to Christmas spending. But it was just a question of degree.

He did not expect a repeat of 2020’s Christmas spending, saying Delta would have an enduring impact on New Zealand’s economy over the long-term.

“It’s a more subdued economic trajectory going forward.”

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