Thursday, 15 Apr 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: There’s light at the end of NZ’s Covid tunnel – but still a long way to go

New Zealanders can all “feel there is light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to the fight against the pandemic.

But Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is also warning that the tunnel is “still a very long one”.

It is a sentiment shared by many across the country, but particularly those in Auckland who are experiencing their fourth lockdown.

Many businesses are “frustrated” with the yo-yoing between alert levels – something BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said is having dire consequences for many firms.

And there is a sense of “groundhog day” for many students in New Zealand’s biggest city, according to Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Steven Hargreaves.

Students, he said, are “well and truly over being out of school”.

But as Auckland edges towards what will hopefully be the end of this lockdown period, Mayor Phil Goff has a message to Aucklanders: “Stay the course.”

“With the vaccine roll-out underway there is a lot to be hopeful about, but for now we just need to keep going.”

New Zealand is still some months away from a nationwide general vaccination campaign, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying it will begin “midway” through 2021 and Hipkins saying it was going to be “some time” before there is a significant scaling up of the programme.

“We’re still going to have to do the hard yards over the next year until we get to the point where we have got a broad coverage of vaccines,” he said yesterday.

So far, more than 9400 people have received vaccines – all frontline border and MIQ workers.

A further 65,000 doses arrived earlier this week, meaning there are 200,000 vaccines available throughout the country.

But, in the meantime, New Zealand still remains vulnerable to outbreaks and alert level changes.

“While I’m hopeful that we’ll see fewer outbreaks in the year ahead, the risk is still significant and further outbreaks are likely,” Otago University epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig said.

“As we’re seeing at the moment, it takes only one less-than-straightforward outbreak into the community to cause huge disruption.”

This time around, that “less-than-straightforward” outbreak came as a result of people ignoring health advice from officials.

Those are: A 21-year old student who went to the gym and university when he should have been isolating and his mother who broke level 3 restrictions to go for a walk with her friend in another bubble.

As it turned out, her friend was the mother of an already infected family.

Although epidemiologists, such as Siouxsie Wiles, have said putting Auckland into alert level 3 was the right move, Kirk Hope said businesses are feeling a growing sense of frustration with moving between alert levels.

Economic research from Auckland Council shows that on average, Auckland loses 200 jobs each day it is in lockdown.

“There is a growing sense of frustration – but businesses are still doing their bit,” Hope said.

He added that business leaders and owners will be keeping a close eye on the Government, in terms of what it does to prevent more lockdowns from occurring.

As well as this, there will be a focus on what is happening next, how long it will take for the vaccination campaign to rollout and how that may impact any future alert level changes.

“People are willing to play their part – but you would get a change if people saw there were ways to stop alert level [increases, which weren’t taken].”

Steven Hargreaves, who is also Macleans College principal, said many students appreciate this is a global pandemic and are playing their part.

“We need to be out of school and staying home. As much as we don’t like it, we’re taking that broader view that we all have to play our part.”

But there is a sense that many students are feeling a sense of “here we go again”.

Meanwhile, there was a bit of good news yesterday – there were no new community cases of Covid-19 for the third day in a row.

This is despite more than 16,000 tests being processed by health officials on Monday.
But Hipkins was careful not to get too excited about the number.

“I think we are still in the critical period where we’re waiting to see all of the test results of all of the relevant close and casual contacts to come back.”

The Ministry of Health, however, was not able to provide the Herald with information as to how many close contacts from Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) or the Hunter’s Plaza gym had been tested so far.

Hipkins said the Government will be looking to see a more fulsome picture of this data “before we can breathe any kind of sign of relief”.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said these last cases make up an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to his alert level recommendations to Cabinet tomorrow.

Additional reporting Julia Gabel.

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