'Getting on top of it' - Deputy PM defends modelling as case numbers drop

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Sep 2021, 12:39PM

'Getting on top of it' - Deputy PM defends modelling as case numbers drop

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Sep 2021, 12:39PM

There are nine new cases of Covid-19 in the community today.

All are in the Auckland region, director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said.

McElnay and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson are delivering an update on the latest Covid-19 cases and vaccinations, as Auckland braces for a level 3 weekend after five weeks at level 4.

The total cases in the outbreak has now reached 1031 with 902 now recovered.

All the new cases are linked, with three of these household contacts and six contacts of known cases. Thirteen people are in hospital and three are in ICU.

One of yesterday's cases remains unlinked.

There have been 1725 tests taken in Clover Park with nearly 21 per cent of the suburb's population now having been tested since September 1.

McElnay still encouraged people from the suburb to come forward for testing.

People wishing to travel from a level 2 area into a level 3 area can do so without a Covid test under two circumstances, McElnay said - travelling into the level 3 area and staying there or going to a medical appointment or vaccination appointment.

These people would have to provide evidence of their appointment.

There have been no further Covid cases in the Upper Hauraki region outside members of the household in which the inmate stayed. More than 60 per cent of those residing in the Upper Hauraki area had now had one dose of the vaccine while 24 per cent have been double vaccinated.

Most vaccines can be given at the same time as the Pfizer Covid vaccine, McElnay said.

That meant regular immunisation programmes can continue as normal alongside the Covid vaccine rollout.

There have been more than 1000 tests in the Upper Hauraki since Monday with all returning negative results apart from those in the original household.

Upper Hauraki can now move to alert level 2 along with the rest of New Zealand apart from Auckland.

Robertson said the Covid numbers were "encouraging" and he urged Aucklanders to stick to their bubble and the rules this weekend: "The hard work, especially that of Auckland is paying off...but the job is not done."

There have also been no unexpected detections in wastewater.

Robertson said permitted travel across the alert level 3 boundary out of Auckland to the rest of New Zealand was the same as under level 4. That was because health teams still advised caution.

Freight and primary goods were allowed to be transported but appropriate business documentation was allowed, he said.

However, Robertson acknowledged his team would look at the rules.

That was due to people needing to travel out of Auckland to complete house sales, care for loved ones or start new jobs.

His team would look at the rules on Monday in a bid to provide more exemptions to those needing them.

Robertson said he didn't think there is widespread transmission in Auckland.

"We do think we are getting on top of it," he said in response to the country reaching single-digit new cases.

'Stick to the rules'

Robertson urged Aucklanders to stay the course and warned case numbers could still bounce up and down.

"But I think what this trend is showing is the measures we have taken are working," he said.

But it did require people to stick to the rules.

McElnay said the fact Mt Wellington had been added as a suburb of interest was due to health advice. Anyone in that suburb or Clover Park or any of the other suburbs of interest are urged to go out and get tested whether they are symptomatic or not, Robertson said.

McElnay said the extra testing in those suburbs had found new cases. She said it was one previously unknown case in Clover Park that had been picked up by surveillance testing.

Robertson said one or two cases had come through of mingling between households where breaches of the rules have taken place - but once people are aware of positive cases they are being very helpful in following the rules.

McElnay said health teams are waiting for new studies to show how much the Pfizer vaccine can reduce Delta transmission. But the studies are clear that it reduces the chances of people becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus

Robertson defends modelling: 'Science not always absolute'

The update comes a day after modeller Shaun Hendy delivered a nightmarish scenario suggesting just under 7,000 people would die even if vaccine coverage hit 80 per cent of people over 5.

That model however suggested a lower level of vaccine efficacy than appears to be the case.

When asked if the Covid modelling done yesterday was scaremongering, Robertson said it was important to release information.

In response to criticism of that modelling, he said the Government took advice from a wide range of sources.

"Of course the modelling could be contested," Robertson said, adding it was based on how many people ultimately got vaccinated.

The key was as many people as possible coming forward to be vaccinated, he said.

Robertson wouldn't reveal what the government's next steps would be in relation to alert levels: "We have to take this one step at a time".

He said the Government would have to keep taking on board the case numbers and information and that there was a lot of time before Cabinet met to make a new decision.

"We'll continue to take a precautionary approach," he said, adding the Government took a decision that with the Delta variant we need to "be incredibly cautious".

That is why new rules limiting movement out of Auckland made at the last minute were important, he said. He noted, however, that the longer the outbreak went on the harder it became for people who needed to leave Auckland to settle house sales.

That's why a fresh decision would be made on that next Monday, he said.

Robertson said with regards to the debate over yesterday's modelling, science "is not always absolute".

He said the Government had continually been dealing with imperfect information during the outbreak because it was a new and evolving circumstance every day - but the modelling done by Hendy was able to be done at a greater scale than other models currently.

The nation was up to 76 per cent of the eligible population having now had one dose of the vaccination, while Auckland was up to 81 per cent, Robertson said.

"There is an opportunity to lead the world in vaccination numbers."

Business support

The Ministry of Health had only accepted 5 per cent of the applications for people who are trying to leave the city, Robertson said.

He acknowledged that businesses are also urgently wishing to be able to travel outside Auckland and said teams are assessing the "accumulative" risk in which if one exemption is given to one business often many more exemptions are then needed to be given -resulting in large numbers of people moving across the Auckland border.

Robertson said plans to ensure greater international travel movement were in the works but it first required as many Kiwis as possible to get vaccinated.

Yesterday's cases

There were just 15 new cases on Thursday, three of which had yet to be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.

There were 49,667 doses of vaccine administered on Thursday, of which 24,339 were first doses. The average number of first doses has gradually declined over the course of the week.

Robertson is expected to respond to criticisms of the Government's modelling of the pandemic, which suggest high rates of mortality even after the vaccine rollout.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeated her plea for people to get vaccinated to avoid Hendy's nightmare scenario.

Ardern said a high vaccination rate would be a "golden ticket" for New Zealand and make level 4 lockdowns a thing of the past.

"Here is our chance to lead the world again," she said.

"Get vaccinated. It's the reason we should all feel hopeful," Ardern said.

Meanwhile debate raged over the accuracy of Hendy's models.

Wigram Capital's Rodney Jones - who has been tracking the Covid-19 numbers - said yesterday's media conference engendered fear.

"You can't fight fear with fear," he told RNZ. "If people are reluctant to get vaccinated we need to encourage them, we need to kind of explain, we need to build a narrative where they feel they're part of a process. If we scare them it doesn't work."

The Government is also expected to respond to concerns that a number of unlinked cases continue to appear in the community.

Rach unlinked case suggesting a potential undetected chain of transmission, and present a barrier to further loosening of alert level restrictions in Auckland.

Ardern has challenged Aucklanders to achieve a 90 per cent vaccination rate by the time Auckland's alert level is reviewed in a fortnight.