Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Middlemore Hospital case a 'problem'; unexpected cases could slow Auckland's shift to level 3

By Amy Wiggins

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The plane carrying 250,000 urgently needed Covid vaccine doses from Spain has touched down in Auckland.

This comes as experts warn unlinked cases, including a Middlemore Hospital patient who tested positive yesterday, needed to disappear before Auckland could be moved down alert levels.

The extra Pfizer supplies were sourced from Spain in a Government deal announced yesterday.

The last-minute deal is an effort to avoid the need for a slowdown in the vaccine rollout as demand is far outstripping expected levels since the start of lockdown.

The shipment is in addition to the 10 million originally purchased directly from Pfizer.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not reveal the price but said it came with "no premium" compared to purchasing straight from Pfizer.

Another "much larger" shipment would be announced next week from a different country, Ardern said.

The flight carrying 250,000 Covid vaccine doses from Spain arrives in Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The extra doses were needed because of an unexpected surge in demand for vaccinations amid the recent Delta outbreak, which Ardern said they did not want to see slide.

Forecast supply would have enabled about 50,000 vaccinations a day through September, but demand in recent weeks has been nearing 90,000 at times, and averaging more than 500,000 a week.

The Government had been promising for months the vaccination effort would ramp up so the extra shipments will avoid the need for bookings to be slowed or cancelled before the rest of the country's 10 million doses arrive from Pfizer by the end of October.

Ardern said the Spanish shipment was in addition to New Zealand's regular weekly delivery from Pfizer, which was also expected this weekend and would allow them to set up walk-in vaccination sites throughout September.

"We expect to receive a total of 1.8 million doses from Pfizer throughout the month of September, in addition to the doses purchased from Spain. This means we don't have any plans to slow down the rollout.

The shipment from Spain left Madrid at 1am yesterday New Zealand time and touched down in Auckland just after 11am today.

Middlemore Hospital patient who walked out a 'problem' for alert level change

The continued emergence of unexpected cases of Covid-19 like yesterday's Middlemore case could slow Auckland's shift to alert level 3, an epidemiologist says.

Thirty-six patients at Middlemore Hospital now have to isolate after a woman who arrived at the emergency department for treatment yesterday tested positive for Covid.

It's the second positive case to be detected at the hospital in the past week.

Seven police officers have been stood down after coming into contact with the Middlemore case on Wednesday.

Counties-Manukau area district commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said police were told last night about the Middlemore patient who tested positive yesterday.

"It was established that police officers from Counties Manukau district had dealings with this individual and another family member on Wednesday morning," she said today.

"Following advice from health officials, seven officers were stood down last night as a precautionary approach due to being in close proximity with these individuals."

Rogers would not say why police were called out to the incident but said the woman who tested positive was not taken to a police station.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said Auckland needed to have a few days without unexpected cases before the region could confidently be moved down to alert level 3.

"The two things we are particularly looking at are obviously a decline in cases - we have to get into single digits - the other thing that's important are unexpected cases."

Expected cases were close contacts and household members of previously identified cases while unexpected cases were those with no obvious exposure.

He said any unexpected cases were a "problem" because they suggested there could be undetected lines of transmission in the community and raised questions about how far the spread of infection might reach.

Baker said the move down alert levels did not require there to be no new cases appearing in Auckland but those that were being detected needed to be between known cases.

The good news was that the reproduction number was now as low as about 0.4 while the use of wastewater testing gave further reassurance there were no undetected cases in the community.

"We know level 4 works for stamping out Delta because we are seeing the reproduction number come down."

Early testing of the Middlemore contacts would give a good indication of whether the virus had spread so Cabinet could make a decision on alert levels on Monday, he said.

Counties Manukau District Health Board said the patient who tested positive yesterday had been screened on arrival just before 10am and said she had not been exposed to anyone with Covid, had not been to a location of interest and had no symptoms.

Counties Manukau DHB chief medical officer Pete Watson said she arrived at hospital for non-Covid-related treatment and was triaged in the emergency department waiting room before being moved to the adult short-stay unit.

While in hospital the woman was tested for Covid. She made the decision to self-discharge and left the hospital just before noon - before test results came back showing she was a positive case.

The woman was later informed of the result and instructed to isolate under the care of the Auckland Regional Health Service. She has been moved to MIQ today.

Watson said all staff were wearing appropriate personal protective equipment including N95 masks and goggles.

That meant the risk to staff members was considered extremely low so they did not have to isolate.

However, 36 patients and a few visitors had been identified as contacts and had been instructed to isolate and get tested on day three, five and 12, Watson said.

Of those, 17 patients remained in hospital and they rest had been discharged.

A letter given to patients identified as contacts said the adult short-stay unit had been closed as a precaution.

News also comes this morning that a positive Covid case was at an Auckland supermarket yesterday afternoon.

The Ministry of Health released new locations of interest this morning - showing a Covid-positive person was at Countdown Manurewa on Browns Rd yesterday.

They were there for half an hour between 12pm and 12.30pm.

The supermarket has also been linked to a positive case on Tuesday between 12.30pm and 1pm and last Wednesday, September 1, from 10am to 10.30am.

Anyone who was there at the listed times is told to monitor their health for any Covid symptoms for the next two weeks. If symptoms develop, get a test immediately and stay at home until the test result comes back.

University of Auckland Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy also said New Zealand's fight against Delta had exceeded expectations - and the positive signs showed we would achieve elimination in the coming weeks.

He told the Breakfast programme the system and people working on the frontline - essential workers and medical staff carrying out Covid tests, for example, had done "an incredible job" that was now reeling in results.

He said it was "certainly possible" that Auckland could drop down to level 3 as early as next week.

"We are seeing the tail-end of this current Covid outbreak," he said.

He acknowledged even he was surprised - as were other Covid modelling experts - at the positive signs New Zealand was about to eliminate Delta and Covid in the community again.

The number of new cases each day has been slowly trending down. There were 13 community cases reported yesterday. That takes the total number in the current outbreak to 868.

Of those cases, 30 yesterday remained unlinked to the current cluster.


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