Seventy new cases of Covid-19 were announced in the community today - a number that helped guide the Government's decision to keep all of New Zealand in level-four lockdown for another four days.
All of the new cases are in Auckland and brings the total number of cases in the community outbreak to 347.
Nineteen of the current community cases are in a stable condition in hospital; one of the cases is in a stable condition in ICU. Of those in hospital, two are in North Shore Hospital, eight are in Middlemore Hospital, and nine are in Auckland City Hospital.
The case information formed a crucial part of the Government's decision about alert levels, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield outlined from the Beehive at 3pm.
There are currently six epidemiologically linked sub-clusters identified within the outbreak. The two largest clusters are the Birkdale Social Network cluster associated with Case A - 45 confirmed cases, and the Mangere church cluster which now sits at 146. The remaining clusters have fewer than 20 people associated with them.
Of the total 333 cases in Auckland, 278 cases have been clearly epidemiologically linked to another case or sub-cluster. Links for the remaining 69 are yet to be fully established.
Of the 70 new cases, 44 are from the Pacific community, 11 are Asian, six are European, six are Māori, and the ethnicity of three is unknown.
The number of contacts in this outbreak sat at 29,851 at 8am today. Around 76 per cent of those people have had a test, most others are not yet due a test.
There are 23 community testing centres available for testing across Auckland today, including six regular community testing centres, 12 pop-up sites, and five invitation-only sites for high-risk groups and to prioritise essential healthcare workers.
Case at Warkworth rest home
The staff member at the Amberlea Home and Hospital Care Facility
in Warkworth worked in the facility's dementia ward.
However, that staff member is fully vaccinated and adhered to strict Infection, Prevention and Control protocol, including wearing face coverings and other PPE.
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Meanwhile, there are no new cases of Covid in managed isolation today. There are currently 384 active cases (both in the community and in isolation facilities) being managed in New Zealand.
The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is now 2941.
There are no new Covid samples in any of the country's 108 wastewater sites.
The most recent analysis shows there continues to be positive results in Warkworth, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as previously reported.
While Covid was detected in a sample collected on Tuesday from Warkworth, other areas, including Snells/Algies continue to be negative.
Another sample collected from Christchurch on Wednesday was processed today and returned a positive result. However, this is consistent with virus shedding from those cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities in Christchurch. Further testing is under way from a range of sites in Christchurch.
Record number of vaccines yesterday
As for vaccines, there were 90,757 administered yesterday.
Of these, 65,541 were first doses and 25,216 were second doses making it the biggest daily total to date.
More than 3.11 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given so far and of those, 2 million were first doses and more than 1.1 million were second doses.
More than 181,000 Māori have received their first vaccination, and, of these, more than 100,000 have also had their second vaccinations.
More than 117,000 doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. More than 67,000 of those have also received their second doses.
As for testing, 37,020 tests were processed across New Zealand with 18,000 of those taken across Tâmaki Makaurau.
About 7000 were taken at community testing centres and around 11,000 at general practice and urgent care clinics.
In Wellington, almost 3000 tests were processed yesterday. There are seven community testing centres operating across the region today, and around 32 GPs are providing testing.
Experts urge 'cautious' approach to alert levels
Before the Government's announcement today, experts were urging a few more days in lockdown across the country as part of a "cautious approach" to containing the Delta outbreak.
And the Government's top adviser says while "I'd love to say Santa Claus exists" there was no easy way to stamp out Delta and there were still tough times ahead.
Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said there was still a risk the virus could be incubating outside Auckland and Wellington.
Level 3 was good at containing spread, but not at eliminating the virus, Baker said.
Bar any developments, a "cautious" approach - since confirmed by the Prime Minister - could see the South Island enter level 3 from Wednesday, meaning it had been through a full 14-incubation period since the lockdown began.
Level 3 included opening up gatherings to 10, and limited hospitality services, but still prevented large gatherings including most businesses and schools.
"It is feasible [to go to level 3] from this weekend, but carries more risk," Baker said.
It was also feasible the North Island, bar Auckland, could also be lowered to level 3 then, but there remained some risk given the 12 cases in Wellington.
The fact they were all contained in their bubbles and there had been no spread was reassuring, Baker said.
"One option could be for Wellington and/or the North Island to hold on a bit longer, and then effectively split the country into three zones with Auckland."
More information about cases that were already effectively quarantined, in their bubbles, and those that were out in the community needed to be provided, Baker said.
If there was a move down alert levels, Baker said the Government should look to carry mandatory mask use in certain crowded indoor levels with it.
Eminent epidemiologist Sir David Skegg says he is cautiously optimistic New Zealand will get out of this outbreak but it all depended on the community's ongoing response.
He said on current progress, he expected the country to emerge from lockdown in a few weeks.
But Skegg, the Government's adviser on elimination, told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that even with vaccination levels up, public health measures would still need to be maintained with Delta.
"Unfortunately there's no easy way out. I'd love to say Santa Claus exists but unfortunately whatever we do in New Zealand we are going to have some tough times ahead."
Skegg maintained elimination remained the best option for New Zealand. "No one would have wished to have this outbreak but the good thing is that it is making people realise we need to get vaccinated," he said.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that we will get out of this but Delta is definitely a lot more infectious, it's a lot more difficult to stamp out and it really all depends on us," said Skegg.
"If we observe the lockdown better than Melbourne and Sydney have done then, of course, we will get rid of this in the next few weeks ... I'm expecting this to happen."
Cases in NSW
There are 882 cases of Covid in New South Wales today.
Cases peaked at over 1000 on Thursday.
Two Covid-related deaths were also reported by NSW Health - a man in his 60s and a man in his 90s. The death toll in the current outbreak now stands at a total of 81.
There are currently 767 Covid-19 cases admitted to hospital in NSW, with 117 people in intensive care, 47 of whom require ventilation.
Since the Sydney outbreak began in mid-June, there have been 16,556 local cases reported.
Most of NSW is nearly 10 weeks into lockdown but chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has warned that the state is still yet to hit the peak of its current outbreak.
New locations of interest
New locations of interest in Auckland have been released by health officials today.
The ministry has confirmed that an Auckland school in Ōtāhuhu is among the locations of interest. The school has already publicly announced it is affected after a student tested positive.
Anyone who was at the school on Tuesday, August 17, between 8am and 3.15pm is considered a close contact.
The University of Auckland's maths department building is another major location. Anyone who was at the building, on 38 Princes St, on Tuesday, August 17, between 9.22am and 5pm is affected.
Three of the new locations were visited by a positive case or cases while the country has been in alert level 4 lockdown.
A positive case visited the Pacific Fresh Māngere store, at 423 Roscommon Road in Clendon Park, on Saturday, August 21. The affected time is between 2pm and 2.30pm.
A positive case also visited the Wholesale Meats Direct shop, at 257 East Tāmaki Rd in Otara, for two hours on Saturday. They were there between 10am and 12pm and anyone who was there at the same time is told to monitor their health and look out for any Covid symptoms.
They must self-isolate for 14 days and if symptoms develop, get a Covid test and stay home until a negative result comes back.
A Covid positive case was at the Mascot Ave Dairy Māngere, at 51 Mascot Avenue, for 15 minutes between 6.30pm and 6.45pm on Tuesday, August 24.
As of yesterday, there are 277 positive cases of Covid in this outbreak.
With 68 new community cases announced, yesterday saw the highest number of positive cases in the community since the country went into an alert level 4 lockdown just before midnight last Tuesday.
Of these, 263 people are in Auckland and 14 people are in Wellington.
A second quarantine facility has been commissioned in Auckland to cater for the burgeoning caseload.
Health officials revealed yesterday 154 cases to date were epidemiologically linked, and for a further 123 the links were still to be established.
There are currently 6 epidemiologically linked sub-clusters identified within this outbreak.
The two largest clusters are the Birkdale Social Network cluster associated with Case A (approximately 41 confirmed cases) and a cluster associated with an Assembly of God church in Māngere (approximately 117 confirmed cases).
The remaining clusters have fewer than 15 people associated with them.
Health officials also revealed that Covid-19 has been detected in samples collected from the Christchurch catchment on August 21 and 23, following previous negative results.
However, there are at least three positive cases in MIQ facilities in Christchurch and these results are consistent with virus shedding from those cases, which we have seen previously.
All other South Island sites are negative.