COVID-19 update 3 December 2021

News article

03 December 2021

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay will update the media today at 1pm.

>> Hand over to DoctorCAROLYN McElnay:On a moment, for an update on the latest case numbers before sharing case numbers and taking questions.

>> Thank you Deputy Prime Minister.

1 o'clock media statement providing a summary of today's cases so I will give a brief overview.

There are 92 new COVID-19 cases in the community reported today.

Of these 80 are in Auckland, two are in Waikato, one in Northland, five in the Bay of Plenty, one in Lakes DHB. One in Nelson Marlborough and two in Taranaki.

We are also advising of three additional cases in Taranaki who are known contacts with an established link, bringing the total number of active cases in the region to five. The cases are self isolating across three separate households in New Plymouth, Rotorua and Waikato.

On the advice of the local health unit, Republic of unit, have an intermediate school in New Plymouth is closed today after it was linked to one of the cases. " Tax associated with the school have been identified and is underway. Case interviews are ongoing and any further locations of interest will be published as usual on the Ministry of health website.

With regards to hospitalisations, there has been a decrease from yesterday and we have 79 people in hospital with COVID-19 including for people who are still being assessed, none of these patients are in ICU or high dependency units.

On vaccine, pleasingly we can advise that way to Murtoa and Canterbury have now become the third and fourth District Health Board areas to after Auckland and N coast to reach 90% fully vaccinated.

Also, the average across Metro Auckland DHBs has now reached 90% is fully vaccinated. That is fantastic progress. Auckland has borne  the brunt of the Delta outbreak and its people have been the vanguard of Aotearoa vaccination effort.

I really want to thank all of our health providers and all of Auckland is across the region, they can all share the credit for reaching those fantastic milestones.

On my vaccine pass, the ministry has now issued more than 3.25 million my vaccine passes, again, that is a mammoth effort in just over a fortnight. I would like to thank all of those involved including those who have downloaded theirs. It means almost 90% of all vaccinated New Zealanders now have their passes.

Additionally, more than 370,000 international vaccination certificates have been issued so far with those numbers continuing to climb.

While many of us are looking forward to greater freedoms under the COVID-19 protection framework, we must remain vigilant.

Today we are reporting unexpected detections from wastewater samples taken in Matamata  on November 29 and gives been on December 1. Follow-up samples are underway. Our advice remains if you have symptoms, no matter how mild, these get tested. Even if you are vaccinated, and remain isolated until you return a negative test result.

Finally, I would like to remind people to please keep scanning in or manually recording we have been. Yesterday there were almost 3 million scans across the country. This will be more important than ever as we are now in the COVID-19 protection framework.

To put it simply, our everyday essentials are mask, pass and scan.

 It will be these things that enable us to enjoy summer whilst we continue to live with COVID on our own terms.

Over to You Deputy Prime Minister.

>> Thank you Doctor McElney.

 As you are well aware, New Zealand has now switched into the COVID protection framework or, as it is becoming well known, the traffic light system.

We are able to make this move because we have come through the past almost 2 years of Covert in better shape than other places in the world. We have added amongst the lowest case rates, hospitalisations and death rates in the OECD. As we head into this next phase, critically, we do so with high and rising vaccination levels.

On the eligible population we now have 93% with a first dose, and 87% with full vaccination. Of the remaining five DHBs still to reach 90% first dose, the Lakes DHB has to 785 more vaccinations to go and the West Coast DHB 284 to reach the target, whether because they can be done in both of those DHBs by early next week.

I do want to pause here and thank all New Zealanders for their actions to keep them, their families and the community say.

Some people have tried to portray us as a divided nation on vaccination. The numbers simply do not bear that out. Getting 90% plus New Zealanders to agree on anything is a highly unusual achievement. We have come together once again to do this and we should be proud of the progress we have made. It is of course early days for the framework and the vaccine pass system, that is intrinsic to it.

We can expect there will be a few teething problems over the next few days. It is hard to remember back to the beginning of the alert levels system but the same thing occurred then too. We will be constantly monitoring the settings and making tweaks as necessary, as we did the whole time we were in the alert levels system.

I want to thank businesses for the corporation in getting the vaccine pass system going. I want to make a request for those of you out and about this weekend to please be kind and respectful to staff who are checking passes. They are doing their job and we are all learning as we go.

Just a couple of numbers to reiterate what Doctor McElney has said this morning. As of this morning we have issued 3.2 this morning. As of this morning we have issued 3.2 million back my vaccine passes including 250,000 just yesterday.

As indicated by the Ministry of health, 40,500 issues Individuals were issued an exemption email because their service request had not been resolved. I tell you 99% of those emails got through, and 94% of them were open. There will be a second one of those emails tonight to cover those for where there were issues with the emails and that will cover all of those with an outstanding service request.

 I want to remind businesses that the eighth round of the wage subsidy is still open for applications, even though we are now in the new framework, and applications for this round will close at 11:59 PM under 79.

The Resurgence Support payments numbers 46 remain open for applications through to January 13 next year. Also, the transition payment which I announced on Monday is open from applications from December 10, next Friday.

This payment is a recognition of the long period of time businesses in Auckland in particular have spent with restrictions in place, prior to shifting to the framework. The payment is designed to support those businesses through the next few weeks and we encourage you to apply their Inland Revenue from the town. This transition payment is at a higher base rate than the current RSP, which will be $4000 per business, loss $400 per FTE up to the 50 FTEs, a maximum payment of $24,000.

As I said on Monday, that is estimated to have a total cost of between 350 and $490 million. The effective revenue period for the transition payment will be set between October 3 November 9, and will be compared to a typical week in the six weeks prior to the August 17.

Finally, before we go to questions, I have the pleasure to let you know this will be the last Friday at 1 PM press conference for the year.

Obviously there will be others through next week but not next Friday. I want to acknowledge the 2021 has provided significant challenges for many people but also, further evidence of the resilience, compassion and resourcefulness of New Zealanders. That applies to all of you in this room.

 I want to thank you for your hard work, in disseminating complex information under his time pressure to ensure that New Zealanders remain well and informed in this pandemic. While we might not always agree on what comes of the other end, this has been an enormous and exhausting task that is vitally important.

We that I'm happy to take your questions.

>> Is confusion with the therapist, only in the last hour how they got a note saying they can't ask for vaccine passes. We had a lot of leading to this traffic light system, why are there still those glitches happening in (inaudible)?

>> As I said in my opening remarks, if we cast our minds back to the beginning of the alert levels framework, and you look at the tapes of your questions from that time, you'll find there were glitches and wrinkles that needed to be ironed out as we went through each phase of the alert levels framework. It is complex to set a set of rules that guide the way in which all businesses and all venues operate. Therefore, we will see some wrinkles there. I'm sure the physiotherapist is a close contact business and once involved in that healthcare system, they will always... As you recall we have had conversations about them at higher alert levels, they do sit in a space that may have caused some confusion. I am pleased to hear it has been resolved.

>> What is your expectation with the alert levels vaccine passes, I know the ore City Council have said no they don't require vaccine passes. They are now reconsidering that. What expectations you have or council?

>> Cancels run public facilities and we have given them the ability to be able to decide how they will work. Not unlike private companies who will also be deciding how they work. Some councils have taken the decision to require passes, others have not. Obviously in the end, it is the facilities that they run. I know particularly in the area of libraries, for example, there have been concerns that they almost like an essential service in some places for some people. Councils have taken decisions with that in mind. What I would singly ask is that they are clear in the communication and the people understand how that works. In the end, they are their own authorities and they have the ability as a private business does to make their own decisions.

>> Another case in Nelson today, what is the advice you are giving around how bad that outbreak there could get?

>> I will head over to Doctor McElnea but the call this morning, we did not get any advice that it was moving beyond what we would expect. Obviously we have seen excellent testing numbers around 1400 tests over the last day or so which is encouraging to not have too many extra cases today. Like everyone in New Zealand, we are asking the people of Nelson to be vigilant. I think it is important, made at the start, what we have done very well and it is encouraging to see the overall case numbers coming down, we still have to be vigilant. COVID is a still a serious virus for many people. We do need people to take basic public health precautions, but particularly to be tested if they have symptoms.

>> Thank you. They have got 14 active cases in the Nelson Marlborough and district health board area. The public health unit is working hard with local businesses affected, I think there is a school in particular as I mentioned. The public health unit there is really sort of managing all of those cases and their contacts. It is hard to say whether we would get more cases, we certainly see in these situations where we see the highest level of risk is in households. If there is been a case in a household we do expect to see further cases. At this stage, no particular cause for alarm in Marlborough.

>> Should the community be concerned?

>> That is not on the cards at this point as Dr Caroline McElnay says the outback is not causing alarm, we just repeat what I said was that we do need people to be vigilant to wear their masks, to make sure they keep the appropriate levels of physical distancing depending on the circumstances they are in full stop especially to be tested full stop not specifically on this outbreak but more generally we are seeing people late in their symptoms, we need people to be thinking if I've got any of those symptoms traditionally associated with COVID-19, PE class, runny nose or sore throat get tested full stop get tested

>> Should vaccinated people have anything to fear from unvaccinated?

>> We are supporting everyone in New Zealand to stay staples of high-rise environments we are asking for vaccination passes. When we have over 90% of New Zealanders with their first dose I'm not going to accept we are divided nation. People hold different views and people are entitled to hold different views but I think as a country we have come together amazingly over the last few months to see those vaccination rates rise. We have set up a framework that is designed to keep New Zealanders say that I believe will do that.

>> Would Dr Caroline McElnay like to comment on the health risk to others that are vaccinated for unvaccinated people?

>> Just to back up at the Deputy Prime Minister says we have very high rates of vaccination. Vaccination is always a mix of individual protection but the vaccination gives you as an individual but also protection of the community. I think that we have seen with those very high rates is that we can be assured going forward that our risk for COVID as we have seen is declining. We have seen uppercase numbers, particularly in Auckland there has been a very encouraging falling numbers for that I think it is the combination of high vaccination rates plus the protections we have put in place through the framework for the

>> Mr Robertson can you clarify also, what is the situation with Maori roadblocks in Auckland?

>> In Auckland that they are police checkpoints was as good policing would dictate they work closely with the community and this case with Iwi around the design of those and they will work as a checklist could. Allow police checkpoints and the police are in charge of the checkpoints, working closely. Actually want to congratulate both the police and Northland and local Iwi working together and coming up for a solution that is appropriate for the community. Northland has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country there are still a need to be cautious. The police know how to do this and have worked closely with the community before and I'm sure the fine.

>> Maori under the health act have the right?

>> Under the health act and section 22 order that allows Iwi to work with the police to be able to do that work. These are police checkpoints and obviously whatever legal requirements will be met, the police will make sure that happens. Barry, I don't think this is anything for anyone to be worried about. This is actually really good community policing.

>> Booklet should be a green, why isn't it?

>> It is not a green firstly because we set some pretty clear guidelines around where we would put people. We still have a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland. Was the number of cases coming down is very encouraging, it is still a significant outbreak. Throughout the whole period of COVID-19 we have worked cautiously and methodically. The result of that is we have managed to keep the number of deaths low, the number of hospitalisation low. I've heard many ideas about working quickly at different times from our perspective we think the proof of the pudding is there for the

>> The traffic light system shifting, is it needlessly so. Why couldn't you stick with the system?

>> I wouldn't say this complex. It is a relatively simple system. It has just started and I think if you started right back at the beginning of the alert level system you might have come up with similar numbers around people's understanding. It is a very simple system, especially if you are vaccinated. If you are, what you need to make sure is that you have your class with you and you have your mask with you and you can go about your business and particularly the orange level without any real concerns about the red level with one or two restrictions on gatherings. I think it is a relatively simple system but of course it is new and therefor people take some time to get used to it.

>> Can people expect to be pulled over by Iwi whilst travelling around.

>> They can expect a police checkpoint working together. That is what has been agreed. That is the agreement in place.

>> just going back to the Northland vaccination rate, stubbornly low still. Is there any left over summer in terms of reaching more people. Painting of the way that the vaccination rollout has gone to date? You have kind of reached the point where those who are going to be have been for stop a lot of people be going to beaches, parks, holiday. Is a ready approach around mobile vaccination going out to these sort of places? Are you changing up in these regions whilst the rates are still stubbornly low?

>> The first thing I would say that we already have changed it up. Over the course of the last month to 6 weeks, the idea that we can set up study places and expect people to come over we have moved progressively away from that. There already a number of mobile vaccination clinics, processes. Yes, I do expect over the summer period that will continue. The vaccination campaign doesn't stop anywhere once we get to 90%. The keep scrolling and most especially in an area where we under 90%.

>> I'm just going to say we have seen an increase in the Northland vaccination rates. These recent different ways of doing things have certainly worked at the latest figure today from Northland as the DHB is 86%. That is getting close to the 90% and it is fantastic work.

>> Of the new variant it is obviously not in New Zealand yet. Is there potential at all for those dates have been set for next year around Australia and other countries in self isolation that is there any risk that they are going to move those dates of the Christmas period?

>> No, not at this stage. Would obviously go on the advice of duck Dr Caroline McElnay and her team. There is nothing at this point the point that. The question of what happens with the new variant is that the WHR and others to a lot of work to understand the severity of it, the spread of it. That work is underway right now. Last week to be concerned about it, as has been said here a couple of times. We don't at this point have any advice to cause the odd concern moving into the major shifts in our approach. Of course, if we got different advice we would look at that advice.

>> I was just going to say we are keeping a very close eye on what is happening and what we know about Omricon will give further advice at the end of next week. This is a period where scientists around the world are particularly looking at the severity of the disease because it does appear to be transmissible. Is really about the severity of the disease. In particular, whether or not you can get either reinfection once you have had a past infection or whether there is any suggestion that the vaccine may not be as effective. We don't yet have that information and that is what we need in order to be able to advise a different way of doing things.

>> Very mind the other point I would make of that is obviously what we do have is Delta. We do know that Delta is highly transmissible. Therefor the systems we put in place, the proportions we have, the way we have moved cautiously has actually already directed towards a highly transmissible and quite severe variant. We actually do have those systems in place. What we don't already get the full details of Omricon we have made decisions with Delta. Seven double be people who are choosing MiQ system because they are relying on dates in the January period. Your advice to people is the continuous tubing that is actually going to stay in place.

>> correct.

>> just of the community isolation. How is it going and how many people are at home and where in New Zealand they are?

>> In terms of numbers we have got in front of me here is that 936 cases reported as being in self isolation across the country. The numbers reflect where the cases are so there are a handful in some of the DHBs where we have a smaller number of cases in the large number in Auckland. I haven't seen any updated report around any particular concerns. Obviously we continue to work with both the public health assessments and the medical assessments. And obviously again, this is a new system that is getting in primary health providers are involved. News reports would be possibly sure they have information.

>> I think operations like this does take time. We have seen very good progress in Auckland. Still getting in Waikato. we want district ultimately get a case, we are seeing as we have the scattering of cases across the country that the systems are coming into play.

>> The recent report of the first two deaths and the rate the system could magnify equally for Maori and Pacific.

>> yes is the short answer to the question. Obviously those cases were right at the beginning. Significant work has gone on to partner with Maori and Pacific providers to make sure the right people are having the right conversations at the right time with cases. Obviously as stated earlier, the week around the report there is a lot to learn around that. I believe those lessons are being learned, yes.

>> minister, what sort of thresholds does Auckland need to reach to be able to change from red to orange? There are a few hospitality businesses that like to open that sooner rather than later.

>> certainly we wanted to move sooner rather than later as well but it will be from the Ministry of Health of public helping. Obviously there are about four or five different things we are looking at any region. The first is vaccination rates. Booklet is doing extremely well there and continues to make really good progress. We also look at the status of the outbreak. That is a significant issue for the Auckland region. The status of the outbreak, how big is it, how widespread is it, we are see good sides there but we obviously want updated advice as we move towards the December chicken we have got. That there are issues around the health system, the ability for it to quote. Again holding up well but we need to monitor it. Contact tracing systems, making sure they work well. The impact on vulnerable populations. Will look across all of those criteria. As I say, Auckland is doing well but will continue to move cautiously when we have had such a significant outbreak.

>> you down below 100 cases today. Still below 100 hospitalisations. DHBs bordering the how close are we?

>> These are really encouraging signs but I'm not going to pre-empt the advice will get from Dr Caroline McElnay on 13 December. Did you have anything to add that?

>> I would want to pre- empt the assessment we will be doing next week. As we see this is constantly evolving as the situation and we always give our assessment is closing time as we can through to ministers so they can make the decision.

>> is it possible there could be a move down from Auckland

>> it is possible but I don't want to pre-empt that that is likely, that is possible. The recently put the check-in in is because we could look at not just Auckland but for all regions. As I say, there are encouraging signs but will take this day by day and I have certainly learned that the last two years  Mac back on passes, as been reports of hospitality places not requiring vaccine passports. How will you be checking visitors needing passes, (inaudible)?

>> The thing we're doing there is operating as we have again through COVID of trying to understand the circumstances. There is an educative element here to help people understand what is required of them. Obviously, as time went on, if there are people who are deliberately and flagrantly not going along with the rules and guidelines, there will be follow-up action. The first tips here are to help everyone understand what their obligations are. To be honest, I haven't heard widespread examples of that. I'm sure there will be one or two out there. Sometimes behavioural perhaps need to look at the specific rules, there are different rules for retail than Ra for hospitality, for example. People need to be able to understand the circumstances. We can follow those cases up if they are raised for us.

>> You mean police going round and doublechecking businesses that should be using passes?

>> As I say, things are drawn to our attention, there are a number of the ways of dealing with that. At the end of that escalation there is enforcement. At the beginning, we want to make sure we get alongside people and make sure everyone in the stands of the obligations are.

>> A few points of clarification, that cycle symbol system. The farmers markets are confused about whether they need vaccine passes because they do both retail, selling groceries, but they also have trucks. What is the situation?

>> They are treated as retail so therefore don't need those while they have food trucks. They are food trucks that people take away from.

>> Can I get some points of clarification on South Africa. When will it be reviewed as being a high risk country? When are you planning to do those reviews?

>> I will have to check with Chris Hipkins.

>> We were constantly keeping under review and we are meeting internally on Monday just to catch up over the weekend because often our disadvantage of being ahead of the rest of the world is things happen on a Saturday for us. Of course, they come out, that's what happened with the WHO, they meet on a Friday. We have to check in on Monday but that is an example of how we are constantly keeping this under review. I was on a Zoom call last night on with colleagues from South Africa and Australia. There is a lot of sharing of information going on at the moment among the scientific community. That hasn't yet been collated into substantial reports that we can then use as our evidence base to advise government.

>> Was a differentiation between visitors and visitors from high risk countries?

>> That comes back to the Bill of Rights act obligations we have and we obviously look carefully at how we manage travel from high risk and hot very high risk countries will also for filling our obligations to citizens and residents. It's a method of being able to control the volume of travel while also fulfilling our legal obligations.

>> In terms of ICU beds and announcement it came this morning, why now, why was this not prioritise before?

>> It has been an ongoing period of prioritisation. One of the things we have done is work with district health boards around New Zealand about what the needs they have are. A number of them have been doing work to ensure they can cope in the event that they have an increase in the number of cases. Equally, we are determined to make sure that right across New Zealand we have a health system that is fit for purpose. That is always good to be an ongoing issue.

>> Is a particular issue at the moment on the cusp of Christmas?

>> I'm not nervous per se but we need to be constantly vigilant and make sure we are building a help system that is continually improving. It is fit for purpose, not just in the face of COVID but generally. We would closely with DHBs, we believe we are now in a position to make a number of specific proposals come to reality.

>> Speaking of being nervous, how worried are you about facing up against cyber creatures in house?

>> I like how you always managed to dry back to COVID. I am looking forward to seeing Mr Bridges and take him treaty with the respect I have the other five national finance base people.

>> (inaudible)?

>> Is a fact.

>> Some pharmacies are charging to provide printed vaccine certificates. A couple with that?

>> They shouldn't be.

>> That is very clear, they should not be charging. I've been brief that some pharmacies are not or are printing but are offering to eliminate, that is different than providing a lamination service I understand the charging. But they should not be charging for the printing of Accent browsers.

>> Just out of interest, people who have ended up in IC or H to you, have what has been a vaccination status? Is any vaccination person needing that level of hospital care?

>> I have got quite a lot of information about the vaccination status of people in hospital but not that piece of information. So no, I'm sorry.

>> We will get back to you about because we will have that, just not here.

>> Alright everyone, thank you very much. 

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