Covid-19 summary: Mandatory vaccinations, 35 cases and no changes to alert levels

By RNZ.co.nz. Republished with permission.

Mandatory vaccinations have been introduced for health and education workers as 35 new community cases are reported and the government confirms there will be no immediate changes to alert levels.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield held a press conference this afternoon after Cabinet met to review alert levels.

Ardern announced that Auckland would remain at its current setting until 11.59pm next Monday, 18 October, while Waikato and Northland would stay in level 3 until 11.59pm on Thursday. Settings for Auckland will be reviewed next Monday, while Cabinet will meet on Wednesday to discuss Waikato and Northland.

“New Zealand is at one of the trickiest and most challenging moments in the Covid-19 pandemic so far,” Ardern said.

“However, there is a clear path forward in the coming months in which New Zealanders should be able to move to living with fewer restrictions and more freedoms as a result of higher levels of vaccination.”

Ardern says restrictions are extremely important in controlling the virus while we get the population vaccinated.

“These measures, when followed, make all the difference.”

She said the r-value has crept up to between 1.2 and 1.3, and this meant cases are likely to grow in the coming days.

“If followed, our alert level restrictions can help control that spread.”

Mandatory vaccinations for education sector workers

Auckland schools will not be reopening after the school holidays on 18 October. Instead, distance learning will resume.

Public health officials say robust safety measures need to be in place before schools reopen.

Hipkins said the government would be assessing the possibility of reopening schools week by week. He told Checkpoint there was a “good chance” they might open before the end of the year, and not opening until term 1 next year would be a “worst case scenario”.

All staff, including teachers and support staff, will be required to receive their first dose by 15 November 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022.

If schools resume before the end of year and teachers are not fully vaccinated, those staff will be tested for Covid-19 every week.

All teachers will need to be tested before returning to work, he said.

The move has been welcomed by Post Primary Teachers Association and NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Mandatory vaccinations for health workers

Cabinet has also moved to mandate the vaccination of high-risk workers in the health and disability sector by the earlier date of 1 December 2021.

Those high-risk workers include general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated.

Hipkins said the new requirements also cover people who work at aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and non-government organisation which provide health services.

These workers need to receive their first dose by 30 October, Hipkins said.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said there are still holes in the plan for the mandatory vaccination of health workers and the government needs to plug them quickly. Baker said all visitors should undergo rapid anti-gen testing.

Thirty-five new community cases

All 35 of the new cases reported today are in Auckland. Ministry of Health said in a statement 14 have known links to existing cases (including four household contacts) and 21 remain under investigation.

There are 16 epidemiologically linked sub clusters and 14 epidemiologically unlinked sub clusters.

There were no new cases at the border and no new cases to report in Waikato.

  • Thirty-three people are in hospital, including seven in ICU
  • There are a total of 1622 cases in this outbreak
  • There are 2310 active contacts being managed
  • There were 15,349 tests processed in the last 24 hours.
  • Yesterday, there were 42,226 vaccines administered
  • In total, 5,832,277 vaccines have been administered

Earlier today, Ardern revealed the positive case identified in Katikati in Bay of Plenty over the weekend has been retested, as have their family, and results have come back negative.

Bloomfield said the locations of interest relating to the case are being removed from the Ministry of Health’s website.

Meanwhile, two staff members at North Shore Hospital have returned positive results as has a fully vaccinated person working at Auckland Hospital. It was also revealed tonight a patient at Middlemore Hospital has tested positive, and 40 patients are considered close contacts.

Northland contact urged to come forward

Speaking at the press conference, Ardern said the “easiest” thing for the person in Northland who travelled with a positive case, is to come forward and get tested.

Ardern said officials were using every tools and means they had to locate the person, and she has asked health authorities and police to consider naming her.

Genomic sequencing of the positive case she travelled with has confirmed they are linked to the Auckland outbreak. She remains in an Auckland quarantine facility, while 21 close contacts have been linked to her.

Because the woman has been uncooperative, health officials do not clear information on where she travelled to, so they are relying on high testing rates in the region to give the confidence needed that there aren’t undetected cases, Ardern said.

Bloomfield said testing rates in the region needed to increase. He urged anyone who was in contact with the positive case and her companion to get tested, whether they are symptomatic or not. He also urged anyone else in the region who is symptomatic to get tested.

Te Pāti Māori calls for tougher restrictions

Ardern said she disagreed with Te Pāti Māori, which is describing the low vaccination rate of Māori as a modern form of genocide.

Te Pāti Māori is calling for Auckland to be returned to level 4 until Māori are 95 percent vaccinated.

It also wants the rest of the country returned to alert level 3.

The party’s co-leader Rawiri Waititi said the government’s Covid response has failed to deliver for Māori.

Māori urged to get vaccinated

The National Iwi Chairs Pandemic Response Group said how the outbreak is tackled in the next few days and weeks will determine how the rest of the year pans out.

Data from last week shows 58 percent of Māori have had their first dose and only 35 percent are fully vaccinated.

The group’s co-leader Mike Smith is asking rangatahi to help protect their whānau by getting vaccinated.

“We need you, just like our young warriors in the past, to be our young warriors in the present to protect the tribe.”

Meanwhile, Māori health providers in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa are introducing 44 vaccine campervans to help reach people.

Manurewa marae chief executive Natasha Kemp said they want to prioritise those who are most vulnerable, so are taking vaccines right to the community.

Ardern said she will announce the framework for New Zealand’s next steps as vaccination rates lift over the coming weeks.

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