Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Derek Cheng – Level 3 in Northland until Christmas? Brace for that possibility

ANALYSIS:

There’s a chance Northland might be in lockdown restrictions for several weeks – maybe into December – for the same reasons Aucklanders face the same fate.

It’s possible that won’t happen, but Northland should at least brace for that possibility, even though it seems counter-intuitive because there aren’t any known cases there at the moment.

While information is patchy, it looks like the case who travelled to Whangārei gave false information, didn’t want to be found after her first encounter with health authorities, and doesn’t want her travel partner to be found either.

The same challenges for public health teams apply in Auckland, even if the reasons might be different.

Rough sleepers or those connected to gang members, for a complex set of reasons, are distrustful of local and health authorities. This makes them less inclined to get tested, get vaccinated, or cooperate with contact tracers.

For weeks, public health teams have been trying to reach the furthest corners of these marginalised communities to stamp out the remaining embers of Auckland’s Delta outbreak.

With case numbers trending up, Aucklanders are now bracing themselves for the possibility of level 3 restrictions until the life can be squeezed out of the outbreak, or until vaccination levels are high enough to open the door to more freedoms without unduly risking an explosion of cases.

On current rates, Auckland won’t hit 70 per cent of the eligible population being fully vaccinated until about November 8, and it won’t hit 90 per cent until mid-December at the earliest.

That means level 2 may not happen for two more months, if the outbreak continues to rumble on in the City of Sails.

Vaccination rates in Northland are even lower.

Only about 70 per cent of the eligible population have had one dose, so it will take at least eight weeks just to have 70 per cent at full immunity (two weeks after the second jab). For Māori, it will take eight weeks just to get 52 per cent fully immunised.

That’s why Northlanders hoping for a short, sharp lockdown should at least brace themselves for a long one.

The nature of the outbreak could still open a doorway to level 2 in Northland.

The spread of the virus may be small. So far there are only two locations of interest, both petrol stations in Whangārei, and less than 4km from each other. The case is in quarantine in Auckland, and her travelling partner is also believed to be in Auckland – though still eluding authorities.

The spread also might be none. We know the virus is stochastic and that many cases, even Delta cases, don’t infect anyone else.

But they could have encountered – and infected – many people during the 96 hours they were in Northland. They are believed to have been in Whangārei, Kamo, Paihia and Kawakawa.

It’s not impossible – and even likely – that the people they interacted with will be just as reluctant to cooperate with health officials.

They might also have large or even transient households, who would present the same challenges as the ones facing public health teams in south and west Auckland.

We will know more about the likelihood of the lockdown length in Northland as more information comes to light.

Finding out how the case got infected would help, as would finding her travelling partner, and pinpointing where they’ve been and who they’ve interacted with.

Testing numbers will also be crucial to provide clues of any undetected cases, especially if the case continues to stonewall contact tracers.

With vaccination levels so low, detecting and then quelling any outbreak in Northland is the region’s best chance of seeing some level 2 light at the end of the tunnel.

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