Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Boosters, Waikato alert levels on agenda as virus keeps creeping south

Booster shots and Waikato areas potentially moving into new alert levels are hot topics ahead of today’s post-Cabinet announcement from Jacinda Ardern.

The Prime Minister is expected to address media at about 4pm, after days of high new Covid-19 case numbers and the Delta variant’s southward incursions.

A large portion of Waikato from the Auckland boundary to Mokau in the south, and from the coast to Karapiro, is in level three.

Areas in lockdown include extensive rural districts and the city of Hamilton.

The outbreak was creeping through the lower North Island over the weekend and is now knocking on Wellington’s door.

But longer-term issues include the rollout of booster shots for people who’ve already been double-vaccinated.

An enormous simultaneous rollout of booster shots – for example, exactly six months after Super Saturday or the Delta outbreak’s onset, could be a logistical nightmare.

Third doses or booster shots of the vaccine have already been recommended for severely immunocompromised people aged 12 and older.

Epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker said any changes to alert levels today would have to rely on feedback from frontline health workers, who could assess the likelihood of undetected transmission happening.

“You have to be pretty confident that you have a good handle on transmission,” the University of Otago public health specialist said.

“People don’t always come forward if they have symptoms.”

He said health workers would have the best insights into the nuances and details of local cases, but areas outside Auckland should still be trying to eliminate the virus.

Baker said most available evidence indicated booster shots were best used about six months after a person’s second dose.

“The biggest benefit is it reduces your ability to transmit infection,” he said.

“It looks like at a certain point, everyone will need a booster.

“To help dampen down the outbreak, it’s really important their resistance to getting infected stays high.”

Today the Ministry of Health reported 173 new Covid-19 cases in the community.

The vast majority of new cases were in Auckland, but seven were in Waikato.

Of the Waikato cases, three were from Ōtorohanga, two from Hamilton, one from Kawhia, and one from Huntly. Five of the new cases were linked.

Today, two new cases were reported n Northland, one in Lakes district – the area in and around Rotorua – and there was also a new case in Wairarapa.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is expected to join Ardern for the 4pm Beehive press conference.

The Prime Minister earlier today clarified that a so-called Freedom Day for Auckland will not happen on Monday November 29.

On that day, Cabinet will decide the date for a major easing of restrictions, but Ardern expected it to be very soon after the 29th.

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