Review next week, while decision on Waikato, Northland this Thursday
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins (Newshub Screen Grab)
The government has decided to keep Auckland under Alert Level 3 with the existing restrictions on freedom of movement, face-covering and social distancing in public places and regulation of gatherings with the message, ‘Vaccinate and Comply with Rules.’
The government has also decided to make Vaccination mandatory for all staff in the health and education sectors, saying that those working with vulnerable communities must take all precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Auckland remains in Alert Level 3
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a media briefing that the country’s largest city remains at its ‘trickiest and most challenging moments’ tackling the pandemic.
“The Delta Variant is a different and difficult opponent than any other Covid-19 Variant and no country has thus far succeeded in eliminating it. However, there is a clear path forward over the coming months during which New Zealanders should be able to move to live with fewer restrictions and more freedoms as a result of higher rates of Vaccination,” she said.
There were two messages inherent here: that (a) New Zealand in general and Auckland, in particular, should be prepared for a prolonged period of pandemic restrictions with possible lockdown measures and (b) we must achieve our target of vaccinating 90% of the New Zealand population.
According to earlier expectations generated by the ‘Five Step Formula’ announced by Ms Ardern last Monday (October 4, 2021), Step Two should have been taken today with retail stores opened and food courts and cafeteria allowed to provide takeaway service from 11.59 pm tomorrow. Public facilities such as libraries, parks, pools and the zoo should also have been allowed to open.
But the decision to maintain Auckland under the existing restrictions would necessarily delay implementation of these steps further. Unless Step Two and Three are announced in combination, (unlikely), the hospitality industry comprising restaurants and eateries cannot open (albeit restricted to 50 persons at a time) for another two weeks.
Large events such as weddings, social, cultural and business programmes will also have to wait perhaps longer and well into the middle of November as the government continues to fight the community spread of the Delta Variant.
The Delta Variant in numbers
The number of cases reported has been varying over the past seven weeks, with the highest number (60, of which 56 were in Auckland) reported on October 10, 2021. The number of cases reported on October 11, 2021 was 35, all in Auckland.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that the Reproduction rate of the Virus computed as ‘R Value’ has crept up in Auckland over the past few days.
That was the main reason for the Cabinet deciding to maintain Auckland under Alert Level 3 for another week.
While preliminary advice had suggested Auckland schools could reopen on October 18, further information from health officials had indicated a “heightened need for robust safety measures to be in place” and hence the decision on this issue has also been postponed.
Waikato and Northland areas
The decision to keep Waikato and Northland at Alert Level 3 until 11.59 on Thursday was prompted by the need to confirm if the Virus has been contained in these areas. Health officials have completed 23,000 Covid tests in Waikato since the first case was cited.
Residents in Northland have been held hostage by a woman who refuses to cooperate with the authorities by providing information about the places she visited.
“Without clear information of exact places and locations to which the person travelled, we are relying on high rates of testing across the entire region, to give us the confidence we need that there isn’t any undetected community transmission,” Ms Ardern said.
Vaccination mandate extended
Ms Ardern also announced her Cabinet’s decision to make Vaccination compulsory for employees in sectors other than MIQ and borders.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that high-risk workers in the health and disability sectors must receive their first dose by the end of October 2021 and be fully vaccinated by December 1, 2021.
“Staff employed in schools Early Learning Centres contacting children should have their first dose by November 15 and the second dose by January 1, 2022. Vaccination remains our strongest and most effective tool to protect against infection and disease. It is not an easy decision but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who have not yet been vaccinated to take this extra step,” he said.
Mr Hipkins said that Schools and Early Childhood Centres would be required to maintain a Vaccination Register from January 1, 2022.
“They must also ensure that only vaccinated staff can have contact with children. This mandate will include home-based educators and support staff (teacher aides, administration and maintenance and contractors). All school employees in Auckland and other regions at Level 3 would have to return a negative Covid-19 test result before they could return to work. Those who were not fully vaccinated in the period before January 1 would also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing,” he said.
The Health and Disability Sectors include General Practitioners (GPs), Pharmacists, Community Health Nurses, Midwives, Paramedics, and all Healthcare Workers at sites including intensive care units, where vulnerable patients are treated, he said.
It would also include non-regulated healthcare workers such as those employed in aged residential care, home and community support services, Kaupapa Maori Health providers and non-government organisations providing health services.
The government is likely to announce a similar mandate for those employed in the tertiary education sector shortly.