The Delta outbreak continues to grow, albeit more slowly, as Cabinet prepares to make a decision on alert levels for everywhere but Auckland, Marc Daalder reports

New Zealand has reported the most new Covid-19 community cases in a single day since April 5, 2020, when the daily case count peaked at 89.

The 68 new cases in the community bring the Delta outbreak to 277 cases, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said.

Despite the rising caseload, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated on Thursday that she was committed to elimination. She warned there would be a longer tail to this outbreak than previous ones because the Delta variant will spread within households containing a positive case. Of the 62 cases reported on Wednesday, she said 37 were household contacts.

Contact tracers have formally identified 24,402 contacts of Covid-19 cases but only 65 percent of these have received a phone call from tracers and told to isolate. Of the more than 24,000 contacts, 71 percent have had a test, McElnay said.

In order to deal with the large workload, more contact tracers continue to be trained. More than 1400 will be in call centres by the end of the day.

The new cases reported on Thursday include two in Wellington. The remainder are still in Auckland.

Wastewater samples taken in Christchurch on Sunday and Monday have come back positive, but McElnay said that could reflect three active cases in MIQ in the city. More samples are being taken and will be processed.

The outbreak has now developed into six identifiable sub-clusters. The Māngere church cluster involves 114 cases and the Birkdale social group cluster tallies 35. The remaining clusters have not been named as they involve fewer than 10 cases.

In emphasising the value of continued elimination, Ardern said lockdowns would not have to be used indefinitely.

“No one wants to use lockdown forever and I can tell you now, that is not our intention,” she said.

Completing the vaccine rollout would allow elimination to continue with more targeted measures like contact tracing and testing. To that end, Ardern said that Wednesday had been another record day for vaccinations, with 87,972 people receiving the jab. Nearly three-quarters of these were first doses.

In response to questions from reporters, Ardern said she still didn’t want to put a number on how many people need to be vaccinated before lockdowns become a thing of the past.

“I want the highest number of people vaccinated as possible,” she said.

Ardern also said she was pleased that the quick alert level change last week seemed to have cut off transmission chains. If New Zealand hadn’t moved to Level 4, she said Covid-19 would likely have cropped up all over the country.

At this stage, it was still too early to totally rule out the possibility of the virus being in the South Island. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield also said on Thursday morning that he didn’t anticipate any part of the country would skip Level 3 on its way down the alert levels.

The Level 4 restrictions are currently set to expire on Friday evening everywhere other than Auckland. Ardern and Bloomfield will announce next steps at 3pm on Friday, after a Cabinet meeting.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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