A woman has died of Covid-19 in Auckland - the first person to die in New Zealand after becoming infected with the Delta strain of the virus.
It comes as health officials report 20 community cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, all in Auckland. The woman died in North Shore Hospital overnight on Friday and was in her 90s. The Ministry of Health said she had a number of underlying conditions.
The last Covid death in New Zealand was in February this year. That person also died in North Shore Hospital. The Covid death before that was in September last year, as part of the long tail of the Auckland cluster last August. In total, 27 people in New Zealand have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic hit our shores.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed her condolences to the family and loved ones of the person who died from Covid-19.
"Every death is a reminder of the damage Covid-19 can cause when it gets into our community," she said.
The woman had underlying health conditions, which meant it was not clinically appropriate for her to receive ventilator or ICU care.
However, her whānau was regularly updated and was able to speak with her over the phone.
She was a household contact of a case and was confirmed as a case before being admitted to hospital on August 28 from home.
Her whānau said they were devastated and shocked by the loss of their loved one and wished to thank all of the essential workers who had helped them over the past days.
There are 43 cases in hospital, including 10 in North Shore, 18 in Middlemore and 15 in Auckland. Seven of these patients are in ICU.
Saturday's 20 new cases brings the total outbreak to 782, including 17 in Wellington.
Thirty per cent of the latest cases had exposure events, with 70 per cent in isolation for their whole infectious period.
There were 5322 Covid tests conducted in Auckland over the 24 hours to 9am Saturday, and 11,037 across the country.
There have now been 3,772,754 doses of the vaccine administered to date, with 1,290,630 having received their second dose.
A total of 86,544 doses of the vaccine were administered on Friday.
As at 9am Saturday there were 144 locations of interest.
Nearly 14,000 vehicles stopped at border
Police checkpoints operating in both north and south Auckland ran smoothly overnight on Friday and no issues were reported.
A total of 13,720 vehicles have now been stopped at the 10 checkpoints on Auckland's northern and southern boundaries.
The five northern checkpoints have been in place since Northland dropped to alert level 3 at 11.59pm on September 2.
Between then and 3.30pm on September 3992 vehicles have been stopped at the northern checkpoints.
A total of 24 vehicles were turned away for non-essential travel.
Between 11.59pm on August 31 and 3.30pm on September, 3 a total of 12,728 vehicles have been stopped at the five southern checkpoints.
Of these, 444 vehicles were turned away for non-essential travel.
This remains less than 4 per cent of all motorists and police thanked the community for their compliance.
The checkpoint with the most vehicles turned around was the Southbound checkpoint at SH1/Mercer off ramp where 164 vehicles were turned away.
The latest case numbers in the outbreak first discovered when a Devonport man tested positive on August 17 were encouraging, deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday.
However, he warned the outbreak of the deadly virus' highly infectious Delta variant could have a long tail, with positive cases continuing in Auckland for weeks.
Across the Tasman, where the states of New South Wales and Victoria have given up on eliminating the virus - instead opting for suppression while vaccinations catch up - infections continue to rise ahead of the expected peak in a couple of weeks.
Victoria announced 190 new cases today, while New South Wales recorded 1431 new locally-acquired Covid-19 cases yesterday and 12 deaths.
Queensland, which managed to squash a recent community outbreak, faces a nervous wait after a 4-year-old girl tested positive to Covid-19 in the state's south-east.
If the state hopes to stay Covid-zero in the community, locking down hard and fast must be considered, infectious diseases expert Dr Paul Griffin told ABC News Breakfast.
The most recent New Zealand numbers were hopeful, Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said.
"We've seen the clear downward trend this week that we were looking for so we can be reasonably confident now that alert level 4 is doing its job against Delta."
A "September exit [from level 4] is certainly looking more possible, but the risk still remains of a long tail as we experienced last year in the 2020 August outbreak".
Meanwhile, the lower case numbers on Friday hadn't led him to change his thinking on the likelihood of leaving lockdown, which he thinks will come down to what we see in the next few days, fellow modeller Rodney Jones, of Wigram Capital Advisors, said.
"It is the path from here that matters."
Other data released on Friday showed control of the outbreak to be improving.
The number of mystery cases - where a link can't be found to the current cluster - halved on Friday, from 65 the day before to just 31.
The news that 65 per cent of cases were in isolation throughout their infectious period is positive, but that still leaves a significant number of cases that had at least some exposure to the community.
Some 35 per cent of Friday's cases had exposure events where they might have passed the virus on to others.
And Kiwis have also been warned how dire the situation will become if the Government's elimination strategy fails.
While falling case numbers are providing hope, New Zealanders are being warned the Delta variant of Covid-19, and how quickly it spreads, means elimination could still fail.
Academics say the reality of losing the elimination fight would be grim.
Restrictions would need to be in place for months until vaccine rates climbed above 80 per cent, the virus would probably escape Auckland, the healthcare system could be overwhelmed and there would be deaths.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker remained confident New Zealand would eliminate the virus, but acknowledged there was a risk it could fail.
"There has always been a risk that we would fail against the Delta variant."
If the Delta variant spread out of control, it would not mean the end of restrictions.
Instead it might mean lockdown, for Auckland at least, could need to be extended until Christmas.
Meanwhile, the person who had escaped from MIQ overnight on Wednesday - getting a ride to his Otahuhu home - presented "no risk to public safety", Robertson said.
The incident, which he described as "regrettable", would be investigated thoroughly, he said.
Robertson also yesterday launched another round of business support on Friday, reopening a second round of wage subsidy for businesses affected by the extension of level 4 and level 3 lockdowns throughout the country.
He also adjusted eligibility criteria enabling newer businesses to take advantage of the subsidies.
The Government's resurgence support payment had previously been restricted to businesses in operation for six months - this was now shortened to just one month, enabling newer businesses to receive the payments.