Prime Minister’s Post Cabinet Press Conference/COVID-19 Update opening statement
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E te tī, e te tā, nau mai rā
[To all, I bid you welcome]
As you will have seen earlier, today there are 22 new community cases to report; three of which are in Whakatiwai in the Hauraki area, and the remainder in Auckland.
Of these cases reported today, the majority are household or known contacts. Five are unlinked. Three of these are within one family. And we already have a tentative link for this family. Interviews are under way and we’ll give you a further update on this tomorrow, but as you will have seen in the past, we often link these cases in time.
A few more details on the Whakatiwai situation. We have tested in and around this case and continue to do so. Of that testing, which has included so far household contacts, corrections staff, court staff, and police staff – we still only have the three positives that were reported this morning.
We are continuing with widespread testing in the community where these cases reside. Testing sites have been set up today to assist with that and over 300 swabs have already been taken.
At the same time, we do want to make sure we are keeping the community safe while we identify contacts and so on. For more details on the steps we are taking in that regard I’ll hand over to Dr Bloomfield.
Thanks Dr Bloomfield. Essentially the approach we are taking here is a bespoke lock down requirement to give that extra layer of comfort for the community, and those around it. I do want to thank everyone locally to date who has been involved moving quickly on this, your help has been greatly appreciated. We have been thrown curve balls before in outbreaks, and this is one where a strong local approach will make all the difference.
Now, I’ll come back to our status more generally.
We are now one month and four days on from when we learnt of the first case in this outbreak.
We now know Delta had been present in the community for a week to 10 days prior to that first case, and multiple chains of transmission were already established.
With Delta, we knew we couldn’t take chances, and the immediate move to Level Four - initially to understand the breadth of the outbreak, and then to get it under control - was the right move and has worked.
Modellers tell us that, had we waited just one more week to act, we would be sitting at around 5,000 cases by now.
So to everyone, but especially Auckland – thank you for acting quickly, and for persevering.
We know that Level Four has been tough, but we also know it’s made a difference.
Since the outbreak began, we’ve identified 39,637 contacts, carried out almost 670,000 tests, administered 1.43m first does of the vaccine and provided a further 660 thousand people with their second dose.
Almost all cases in the last 14 days have been household or known contacts of existing cases.
And we are confident there is no significant undetected transmission.
But Delta does have a long hard tail to it, and the question we discussed as a Cabinet today was: what is the best alert level we can use now to continue stamping out cases.
In considering this decision, we looked at the details behind recent cases. And here are some observations:
For the most part, we haven’t had widespread issues with workplaces.
Where we have had cases at worksites, these have generally been close contacts of existing clusters who have then gone on to infect work colleagues.
Workplaces have for the most part had strict protocols in place, and have moved quickly when cases were identified in their worksite.
This tells us that this approach remains important going forward.
Another important observation, is that of the cases where we’ve been able to establish a link, none have resulted from people accessing essential services. This tells us that infection prevention controls like masks, distancing and limited travel have all been incredibly important, and must continue to be used.
And what everyone will have observed, is the final point – that where we have had cases, they have been dominated by close contacts – mainly household contacts and in some cases, secondary households with other family members. That is why the next stage of our plan must continue to keep bubbles tight. This is key.
And, all of these features are part of Level Three.
These observations taken together has helped inform the advice of the Director General, and Cabinet’s decision today.
That advice explicitly stated that Level Four has done what we needed it to do- it has helped us contain the outbreak, and now as we continue our zero tolerance approach to cases, Level Three still provides the really important and strict rules that help us keep up that important work.
Therefore we have accepted the Director General of Health’s advice and confirmed that Auckland will move to Alert Level Three at 11:59pm tomorrow night, Tuesday 21st September.
The Director General was also clear that given the long hard tail of Delta, we will need time here.
And Cabinet has accepted his advice for Auckland to stay at Level Three for at least two weeks, with Cabinet first reviewing those setting on Monday 4th October.
As for the rest of New Zealand, as I outlined on Thursday last week, for as long as Auckland is at the higher alert levels of three or four, a greater level of preparedness is needed elsewhere – in other words Level Two.
You will have heard me signal last week though, a view that with Aucklands move, there is an ability to allow one minor change for the rest of the country around the number of people who can gather together at Level Two, including in hospitality venues from 50 to 100.
Cabinet has confirmed that decision today.
In terms of what Level Three means for Auckland, I can sum it up with one word - caution.
You will have heard me say that when analysing where transmission has occurred, there are some strong themes, and reasons why certain rules remain in place.
They stopped transmission at Level Four, and are still in place at Level Three.
First, your bubbles remain. You are not allowed to visit friends and neighbours at Level Three. You shouldn’t join them for food, talk closely across the fence, or even have children play together. I know this is strict, but it is strict for a reason.
You are allowed to make a small extension to your bubble to bring in a person who may be isolated, such as an elderly relative.
If you have care needs for children or the vulnerable, you may bring in another family member or carer to help.
But please, be careful when exercising this discretion; no matter what, your bubble must remain small and exclusive.
We have seen in this outbreak COVID being spread between households.
Once in a household everyone is at risk of getting Delta.
So if you break your bubble, know that the consequence may be spreading COVID back into your house - to your family and loved ones.
It’s not until we get to Level Two that you can have contact with those outside your bubble again.
More businesses can open at Level Three, but only in accordance with strict rules.
And I do ask businesses that reopen to play their part in reopening safely.
Put in place all the necessary health and safety rules.
Make sure you look out for your staff. If any of your workers show up with cold and flu symptoms, please send them to get a COVID test and support them to stay at home until they are well.
And please encourage and make time for any staff member not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated. In fact make time for them to do so this week.
The best way to keep moving down alert levels and for business to stay open is for sick people to stay home and for everyone to be vaccinated.
For everyone else, keep working from home if possible, and keep children and young people at home with you where you can.
Children should only go to school if their parents must go to work and there’s no other option available.
So for the most part, schools and other learning centres remain closed.
In those rare instances where children are in a school environment at Level Three, Cabinet today agreed to make face coverings mandatory at in all Level Three high schools, in all indoor settings such as classrooms and assemblies. This is an added precaution.
Events and gatherings still cannot happen, with the extraordinary exception of 10 people being able to gather for a civil union, wedding, funeral or tangihanga.
And a reminder, because Delta has changed the rulebook, we have had to change how we manage it. Here is an overview again of those changes.
Contactless delivery and pickups can occur, but all staff and customers are now legally required to wear a mask for outwardly facing businesses.
So when you pick up something in a contactless way, EVERYONE should be wearing a mask.
In fact everyone is strongly encouraged to wear a mask in any indoor setting with people outside your bubble.
The latest science tells us Delta spreads very easily, often through the air – masks make a real difference
I would encourage all businesses to familiarise yourselves with all the Level Three requirements.
Meanwhile business owners and operators can now access their premises in order to prepare for contactless opening, including to meet the public health requirements.
I have a particular message now for those listening who are over 65, especially in Auckland.
For you, Level Three poses a slightly higher degree of risk.
And that is why I am stepping up my Level Three advice for anyone over 65 in Auckland.
If you have not yet been vaccinated, please stay at home until you have been. This will give you an extra layer of protection in this outbreak.
We have been doing direct outreach to all our over 65s who haven’t had their first dose yet in Auckland, that amounts to about 23,000 people.
Last week a letter was sent to these over 65s who we had details for. Today we are commencing an outbound call campaign. Healthline have started calls this afternoon to support our older New Zealanders to be vaccinated. These will average about 8,000 calls a day. If you get a call, please take the opportunity to ask any questions or raise any concerns.
We have people on the end of the line who can answer them for you, help with a booking, and support you to be vaccinated.
If you have a booking but it’s a way off in the future, bring it forward - there are plenty of spaces right now.
We have only asked our older people specifically to stay at home once before - it was when we didn’t have a tool to protect you. Now we do.
Please use it.
If staying at home makes you feel anxious or distressed, reach out for help.
Many pharmacies are doing medication deliveries and The Student Volunteer Army Grocery Delivery Service can help you access food.
Age Concern can be contacted for general advice and support. Their number is 0800 65 2 105.
If you just need someone to talk to, you can call or text 1737. It’s free.
A quick reminder on boundary rules.
These are tight for a reason. Most people are not permitted to travel.
If you have permission to travel regularly such as for work you need evidence of having had a test in the last seven days.
The rules are different for people permitted to travel for personal reasons.
You must now carry evidence of a negative test result taken within 72 hours before you travel. There is an exemption process for emergencies.
My final word.
We are not stepping out of 4 because the job is done. But nor are we moving because we don’t think we can achieve the goal of stamping out COVID 19.
We are moving because Level Three still provides a cautious approach while we continue to stamp out COVID 19.
It means staying in your bubble.
It means contactless transactions and keeping your distance.
It means we thank Auckland for their tireless work and we keep going.