Vaccination rates in Auckland will be taken into consideration when Cabinet meets today to assess whether the city is ready for another loosening of its current restrictions.
An in-principle decision to let the city move to alert level 3, step 2, from 11.59pm tomorrow night was announced last week.
Counties Manukau DHB yesterday hit 90 percent for first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, bringing all of Auckland’s three DHBs within range of the government’s 90 percent double-dosed vaccination target.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report there was more information available to Cabinet now than in the early part of the pandemic and factors such as vaccination rates would be taken into consideration.
“Previously we haven’t been able to factor in things like vaccination rate… We have particularly high vaccination rates in Auckland and that is part of our consideration now.”
The easing of restrictions that had already occurred in the city was not responsible for a recent spike in case numbers, Ardern said.
“The things we’ve eased to date have not been contributing to the cases that we have. Actually, it doesn’t seem to predominantly be workplaces, nor is it those outdoor gatherings … it is still predominantly gathering of households indoors (where spread is happening).”
Ardern acknowledged that compliance with strict restrictions waned over time.
“Models assume compliance with whatever restrictions are in place for a consistent period of time and we can’t assume that people are able to hold at that level for a very, very long period.
“After about 60 days you saw an escalation over in Australia; you saw a change here over that period of time too, so I think we have to factor that in as well.”
Further information about whether or not primary students would be able to return to school on 15 November would likely be announced on Wednesday, Ardern said.
Aucklanders ‘will be able to move around’ over summer
Ardern reiterated her promise that Aucklanders would be able to “move around and reconnect” beyond the Auckland boundary over the Christmas and summer period.
The detail of how that would work within the context of the new framework was still being finalised.
“What we’ve spoken openly about is the logistical challenges we’re working through on how to do that as safely as possible…
“So 30-40,000 [vehicle] movements; the issue we’re looking at is how do we make that as smooth as possible, if indeed it’s even possible to do that.”
It had never been the intention to keep hard regional borders in place longer term, Ardern said.
“It has been a temporary function and we have to find a way that we can ease away from it.”
No indication of when younger children could be vaccinated
Ardern was not able to give any firm indication about when paediatric doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine might be available in New Zealand.
She said Pfizer was now supplying vaccine data to regulators.
“That then needs to go to Medsafe first, then the second stage for New Zealand is it’s considered by a technical advisory group that we have as well and then beyond that you see the ability to roll out.”
Ardern said the technical advisory group took “a reasonable amount of time” when it considered whether the vaccine should be approved for older children and she expected the process would be similar for the 5-11 year age group.
She confirmed that New Zealand had ordered doses for the 5-11 year age group from Pfizer.
‘Make sure we’ve protected the Māori community’
Māori health leader Dr Rawiri Jansen is worried that easing restrictions in Auckland would see cases rise rapidly and put Māori in harm’s way.
“I think Māori, being the least vaccinated population, the most vulnerable population, are literally in harm’s way. We see that in terms of the Delta outbreak right now, in terms of deaths and in terms of case numbers.
“That’s hugely worrying for Māori communities.”
Jansen, co-leader of the National Māori Pandemic Group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, said with the years-long housing crisis, many people were in temporary housing or overcrowded homes.
“That’s where the virus is travelling – it’s really difficult to isolate, it’s really difficult to manage household bubbles in those settings and we haven’t done enough to protect those communities.”
Auckland’s Māori population at 79 percent first dose and 63 percent fully vaccinated was “definitely not enough to loosen restrictions”.
The Māori population came to the vaccination programme later because it was a younger population and yet was doing a fantastic job in catching up, he said.
His threshhold would be 90 percent of the Māori population fully vaccinated.
“But I’m really keen that we reach out and get the five- to 11-year-olds into the eligible bracket because that’s a really significant proportion of our population.
“We could be in a position to vaccinate five- to 11-year-olds in the first week of December.
His message to Ardern was “make sure we’ve protected the Māori community, the most vulnerable parts of our society do need our care and protection now.”