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Delta Spreads Beyond Level 3 Border – Expert Reaction

Two new Covid cases are reported today from outside Waikato’s Alert Level 3 boundary – in areas currently under level 2 rules.

The two infected people are in Kāwhia and Karāpiro – located respectively south of Raglan, and near Cambridge. No change to alert levels has yet been signalled, as Waikato public health officials have confirmed that all nine of the region’s cases to date are linked. One death from Covid-19 was also reported, along with news that a person had visited Waikato Hospital while likely infectious.

The SMC asked experts to respond.

Dr Nitasha Rimar, endocrinologist and physician, Northland, comments:

“Unfortunately this respiratory virus is highly infectious and will continue to spread aggressively. We can, however, limit that spread by proactively tightening boundaries (especially to regions such as Northland, which has amongst the lowest vaccination rate, and limited ICU beds), and universally masking our entire population in all indoor settings as we continue to boost our vaccination numbers. Proactively, rather than reactively, altering our approach will restrict the virus from flourishing in our vulnerable communities.

“Though the Pfizer vaccine is very good at preventing hospitalisation and death, individuals only gain immunity approximately two weeks after the second dose, and it has only 30 per cent efficacy after the first dose. That leaves more than half the country unprotected as only 42 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated at this time. Furthermore, vaccinated individuals can still become infected and transmit the virus, and the majority of those who transmit the virus do not elicit symptoms. This underscores the need for universal masking.

“Public education is going to be absolutely vital to combatting misinformation and preventing unnecessary loss of life. Perhaps consideration for integrating nationally-known figures, such as sports celebrities or community leaders at daily press conferences, could bolster scientific fact-based knowledge sharing.”

No conflict of interest.

Note: Dr Rimar co-authored the Public Health Expert blog “Making the Most of Masks”.

Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, Immunologist, Associate Dean (Pacific), Head of University of Otago Wellington Pacific Office, and Senior Lecturer, Pathology & Molecular Medicine, University of Otago Wellington, comments:

“It’s devastating to hear another life has been lost to COVID-19 as part of this outbreak in Aotearoa New Zealand – sympathies and condolences are respectfully extended to all the family and whānau at this time.

“The treatment of our most vulnerable communities as part of the COVID-19 response in Aotearoa New Zealand, is providing a mirror on our society and reflecting who we really are as a country.

“The new COVID-19 cases reported in Kāwhia and Cambridge, locations outside the original Waikato COVID-19 restriction border, are concerning but not surprising. Delta has continued its transmission through communities and across borders at a time where vaccination rates (although improving) are still low, and with restrictions already being eased.

“The new COVID-19 case being reported in Waikato’s emergency department is not unexpected. It is critical that people who need help at our hospitals, still receive the essential help and care they need at the time, with hospital protocols in place designed to prevent further spread.

“A further extension of the Alert Level 3 border will be likely needed to keep the new Waikato cases contained and limit further spread.

“These latest developments are sadly unsurprising, with COVID-19 case numbers continuing to increase, and with unlinked mystery cases of unknown origin also persisting. As we have seen demonstrated already, the ongoing potential impact and consequences for our most vulnerable communities remains serious.

“Pacific COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts continue to progress with more Pacific-targeted, tailored Pacific and community-driven activities and events being organised together with Pacific providers to support communities get vaccinated.

“Although restrictions have already been eased, the Government’s messaging at the press conference today included an important call for Aotearoa New Zealanders to work together collectively to help get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible – and included plans for a “National Action Day” vaccination event.

“We cannot give up fighting COVID-19. Please get vaccinated, please get tested, please follow the alert level rules, and above all, please reach out to others and help them do the same.”

No conflict of interest declared.

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