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* 'Proved to be the difference' - how Australia is reporting NZ's success against Delta
* Sir Ian Taylor: How The Bench can now help NZ - four ideas for the Govt to assist
* The 90% Project: Toni Street and Sam Wallace encourage Kiwis to get vaccinated
* What models can - and can't - tell us about the Delta outbreak
There are 24 new Covid cases in the community in what is the penultimate day before Monday's big alert-levels decision.
Asked what the new cases meant for Auckland's possible move out of lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said we were seeing that Delta was infectious across households and had a domino effect.
She knew the case numbers made people anxious but they did not always show the whole story.
Ardern said Auckland's work had paid off. There was no large-scale community transmission in Auckland because of level 4 and the work the city's residents had done.
"We absolutely factor in how Aucklanders are coping with the restrictions we've had to date."
Director of public health Caroline McElnay said the Ministry of Health would be preparing advice on the possible alert level move but was still "cautiously optimistic" that the bulk of the outbreak was under control - it was the long tail that was still being seen.
Twenty-one cases of today's cases were linked to existing cases in the outbreak, McElnay said. Three cases were unlinked, she said.
There are only four mystery cases in total as of this morning, with a tentative link among those, McElnay said.
Nineteen of today's 21 cases are linked through household contacts. Twelve were in quarantine when tested and the other nine were isolating at home. Investigations continue into the three unlinked cases.
More cases are expected in the coming days as some of the recent cases are from large households, where contacts are expected to test positive - but they are already in isolation.
Thirteen people are in hospital, and four in ICU.
"We do know this is a stressful time for them and their whanau," McElnay said.
Today's 24 cases follows 20 cases reported in Tāmaki Makaurau on Saturday, a big jump from 11 the day before and continuing the "long tail" of the outbreak.
All 20 of yesterday's cases were linked to existing cases, McElnay said today.
Cabinet's big decision
Cabinet will tomorrow decide after nearly five weeks whether to shift Auckland out of level 4, and the rest of the country back to less restrictive level 2 settings.
Ardern last week indicated an in-principle decision Auckland would move to level 3 at 11.59pm on Tuesday, September 21.
Although case numbers are bigger today, they were dominated by household contacts, Ardern said at the 1pm Sunday press conference.
"We can join the dots [but] those dots still produce more cases with household contacts."
That meant there was a long tail of Delta. People needed to keep getting vaccinated and stay home, she said.
Asked whether New Zealand could get to zero cases in the community in the Delta outbreak, Ardern believed it possible but tough.
Health Minister Andrew Little's claim that we were unlikely to see another level 4 lockdown was not inconsistent with what the Government had been saying, she said.
"We are now on the trajectory to reach very high rates of vaccination ... once we're reaching those high levels at that point we'll be seeking to avoid those levels in the future."
"You can see how rapidly we are moving up through those vaccination rates - we need to keep that momentum up."
With more than 53,000 doses administered on Saturday, 73.1% of eligible Kiwis have now received at least their first jab of Pfizer vaccine. Seventy-eight per cent of eligible Aucklanders who have had their first dose.
New Zealand was using level 4 and 3 now because vaccination rates hadn't been high, Ardern said. "We want to avoid in the future using those levels and the way to do that is high vaccination rates."
Rule-breakers using 'dishonest methods'
Regarding rule-breakers, Ardern said people should think of everyone else in Auckland who had made huge sacrifices, and others who would be put at risk by people leaving the city.
"People in some cases are not telling the truth [to get through the border] ... in some cases are using dishonest methods to be able to get through or in some cases are using what are legitimate purposes to [act in a way] not in keeping with the rules," Ardern said.
"We do everything we can ... but we also know we are dealing with human behaviour."
Having restrictions in the rest of the country was a "backstop measure" just in case.
There were 5028 tests done yesterday in Auckland.
Anyone who is a contact, was connected to the seven suburbs of interest, had been to a location of interest or had even mild symptoms should get tested. There were 1101 swabs taken yesterday from people in the suburbs of interest.
Diarrhoea, muscle aches, chest pain and abdominal pain are among the more unusual symptoms.
There were 13,833 swabs processed throughout New Zealand yesterday.
The Government was working to ensure there was MIQ space for family of the Dickason children who died in Timaru.
Positive result in wastewater from Pukekohe
There was a positive wastewater detection in a sample from Pukekohe collected on September 15 - last Wednesday. This follows a positive detection on September 8 and non-detection on September 10. The result is believed to be linked to known cases in the area.
Man in custody at Mt Eden prison tests positive
There was a very good understanding of where they had travelled based on past engagement with the justice system. GPS tracking was involved. He had travelled somewhere he was allowed to be - "he was essentially on parole", Ardern said.
Four police staff are isolating following contact with him and several prison staff. He had also been travelling with another person who was isolating.
Three of the police who had contact with the prisoner were fully vaccinated and one was partly vaccinated.
Ardern said the Mt Eden prison case had been detected through very strict protocols - prisoners are treated like people coming in at the border, with masks and extensive testing.
There was a tentative link to that case but it had not been formally linked yet.
Ardern believed the Mt Eden prisoner had been symptomatic.
The Mt Eden prisoner was tested on arrival - this is normal as they are tested on days 0, 5 and 12.
Newly arrived prisoners are kept separate for 14 days, and wear masks, while staff wear full PPE to prevent transmission. They also have cleaning protocols to follow.
The prisoner had very limited contact with others but did have a cellmate who is also being quarantined.
The prisoner was moved to a quarantine area and treated by staff who have formed a bubble and are not mixing with anyone else.
Ardern did not know of any judges or lawyers having to isolate due to exposure to the Mt Eden prisoner, after suggestions he had appeared in person at the Manukau District Court.
The Prime Minister did not know if the prisoner's cellmate had been vaccinated but overall 67 per cent of the prison population had received one dose.
Around 564 staff and 481 prisoners in Mt Eden have had at least one dose. They are a high-risk population and have been a focus of vaccination - particularly staff as they risk bringing Covid-19 into the prison.
Despite ongoing cases, the director of public health, Dr Caroline McElnay, previously said on Friday they were "cautiously optimistic" that Auckland would be able to move out of alert level 4 this week despite a smattering of a few unlinked cases.
Covid commentators say Monday's decision will be one of the Government's toughest yet, with business and public pressure mounting on the Government to ease lockdown restrictions despite these cases.
Cabinet ministers will be forced to balance the risk of further transmission against economic pressures and concerns residents are getting "lockdown fatigue", the experts say.
One of the key risks is whether level 3 will prove able to stamp out Covid cases.
If it doesn't, Auckland could be forced back into level 4 at a later date or - in a worst-case scenario where cases escalate like in New South Wales - be kept under tough restrictions for months until enough people are vaccinated.
Another key to Monday's decision will be how many cases of concern are not yet linked back to people known to have the virus, and whether this means Covid is transmitting without detection.
Meanwhile, police continue to tackle a slew of lockdown breaches by Aucklanders travelling south at a time when the Ministry of Health is tightening restrictions on cross-boundary travels.
In figures released to the Herald last week, a Ministry spokeswoman said just 170 of the 3900 exemption applications had been approved for Aucklanders to leave the city.
There have been at least seven incidents, involving 16 people leaving the region over the last few days.
New infectious disease funding
The Government today announced a $36 million investment over three years and an infectious diseases research platform.
Dr Ayesha Verrall today thanked the research community for their contribution to the Covid-19 response. Many scientists had volunteered their time or had ad-hoc grants to support the response.
The new fund would focus on areas to help with understanding about various areas like vaccine research, therapeutics and diagnostics. She wanted researchers to work together and said it was "crucial" that they worked with Maori and Pacific communities.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will select a host organisation through a contestable process. That organisation will coordinate the work across multiple agencies.
The best researchers from each area, regardless of institution, would be included.
Funding will be reviewed annually.
Research would be funded starting early-mid 2022.
"We've already invested in local vaccine development capacity to some extent."
The infectious diseases platform would have a vaccinology component but would not be "developing a vaccine per-se".
The scientists involved in this fund would be some of New Zealand's best infectious diseases researchers, who would be able to collaborate with other international researchers.
Asked about her advice if there were another outbreak in 6-8 weeks, Verrall said there was an awful lot of difference that could be made before then.
"We are past 70 per cent vaccinated, approaching 80 per cent in Auckland very soon ... we just need to keep going."
People would be best protected once a few weeks had passed since their second dose.
Asked about the drop in vaccination rates, Verrall said there was plenty of supply and capacity but we needed to keep encouraging everyone to come forward.
Black Caps leave Pakistan
Ardern could not elaborate on the threats that caused the Black Caps-Pakistan game to be called off, but they were described as "credible" and "direct and targeted".
"We do support the decision that was ultimately made by NZ Cricket to bring the team home."
New Zealand and its agencies had let the team know about the information they had. It was shared with NZ Cricket as soon as the information was seen.
There was capacity for emergency situations in MIQ and the cricketers would be accommodated.
"It was a direct threat and it was a credible threat - they made the right decision."
A threat assessment would have been provided to NZ Cricket before they left - that was relatively routine and it was up to them to make a decision.
"Subsequently additional information came to light."