Queen Street in Auckland’s CBD was deserted today (RNZ Photo by Robert Smith)
The government has spent the last 18 months learning its own Covid lessons, but as the country hunkers down, once again it is looking to Australia.
There is no greater example of what not to do than New South Wales, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spent much of her Press Conference on Tuesday (August 17, 2021) making exactly that point.
A sober scene in New South Wales
Cabinet’s decision to skip ahead and assume the Covid-positive case in Auckland was of the Delta variant was logical and on that basis, the response had to change too.
Before Delta came on the scene, New Zealanders would have baulked at a Level Four lockdown for the whole country on the back of one case and very few details.
But you only need to turn on the television and see the scenes and sober statistics spilling out of Sydney to know there’s no time for dithering.
It is now confirmed the case is the Delta strain and four new positive cases were identified overnight, making last night’s fast response all the more important.
For the most part, New Zealand’s freedoms are a result of acting fast – going hard and early – and with a Delta transmission rate that sees every person with it infecting up to nine, a severe lockdown is a no brainer.
Coromandel, the focal point
As Director-General of Health Doctor Ashley Bloomfield stressed on Tuesday – while the case has been identified as an Aucklander living in Devonport on the North Shore, they had travelled to the Coromandel at the weekend, making it a ‘national issue.’
The Coromandel is a holiday destination and plenty of people head there from all over for weekends at baches and fishing trips, and then return home.
That means any transmission could have already travelled far and wide.
Cuba Street in Wellington on the first day of lockdown (RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)
Simply putting a perimeter around Auckland and the Coromandel would not necessarily contain anything.
Where questions about the government’s response will be asked is the decision to halt vaccinations for two days.
Much like whether we should have a vaccination target for opening up the borders, there will be two competing schools of thought on this.
Vaccination suspension debate
While vaccination centres have been locations of interest in other jurisdictions and could be potential spreaders, it is also natural that people would expect to be able to push on with their vaccination appointments during a lockdown.
After all, vaccination is literally the best Covid deterrent, and this latest case proves that point with the 58-year-old man’s wife having received both her jabs and testing negative despite being a close contact.
Vaccinations are suspended for 48 hours from Tuesday evening to ensure the safety of frontline health workers.
Some will rightly wonder why usual PPE measures cannot be taken, as they are during Covid testing, to ensure the rollout stays on track.
Christchurch Central on August 18, 2021 (RNZ Photo by Kim Moodie)
Only 40% of the country is vaccinated to date and the latest Covid positive case is eligible but is understood to have had problems making a booking on the website.
Ministers will be aware of the message it sends to New Zealanders by pausing the rollout right when it’s ramping up.
It is understood that Cabinet opted to pause for 48 hours solely because of strong health advice that the priority was to stop people leaving home and moving around.
But in doing so, the government has altered its “Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate’’ message to “Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate (except when there is Covid in the community).”
With 23 locations of interest already identified – 13 of them in the Coromandel – contact tracers will have worked through the night establishing just how big this potential cluster could be (there have been more locations added since this report was published).
Given a popular pub in the Coromandel, the Star & Garter Hotel, was attended on Saturday night (August 14, 2021), while the All Blacks played in the Bledisloe Cup, the possibilities are endless over the coming days.
Jo Moir is Political Editor at Newsroom, Wellington. The above story has been published under a Special Agreement.