As COVID-19 creeps out of Auckland around New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s government will resist setting a “Freedom Day” for another two weeks.
Case numbers and hospitalisations are as high as they’ve ever been
On Sunday, health officials reported 207 new cases, taking the seven-day rolling daily average case count to 176.
Hospitalisations reached a peak of 93 on Saturday and currently sit at 90.
And concerningly, cases are increasingly popping up outside of locked-down Auckland and the Waikato, presenting challenges for the government.
On Friday, six cases were found in Taranaki, and on the weekend, cases in Rotorua, Taupo and the Tararua district followed – all areas with below average vaccination rates.
The situation is likely to hurt Maori more: while vaccination rates in these regions are between 70-80 per cent, Maori rates are in the 50s.
It may also be that the virus has spread to the Bay of Plenty, as wastewater testing shows positive results for Tauranga and Mount Maunganui dating back to November 10.
Ms Ardern said the government wasn’t considering lockdowns for these regions.
“In these cases we haven’t needed to, we feel they’re fairly contained,” she told Radio NZ.
High case numbers in Auckland continues to push vaccination rates up.
New Zealand’s biggest city is 85 per cent fully vaccinated, with 93 per cent at least one jab.
The prime minister has pledged to make a decision on when to move Auckland out of lockdown – where it has been for 13 weeks – and into a vaccine certificate model.
“November 29 is a decision day for cabinet around the country will move into the COVID protection framework,” she said.
“We’ve already given a really strong indication that our expectation is that Auckland will move.”
That will mean vaccinated Aucklanders regain many privileges that have been suspended to fight the virus.
In a departure from previous comments, Ms Ardern also hinted in an interview with Kiwi news outlet Newsroom that she may move the entire country to the vaccine certificate model if vaccination rates were high enough.
Respected outbreak modeller Shaun Hendy told Radio NZ that Kiwis could expect daily case numbers to reach 300, when they might peak if restrictions are obeyed.
“We’ve modelled for some time that we could have cases in that order and we’re not tracking outside of those projections … it’s in line with what we’ve expected,” she said.