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There are a "smaller" number of Covid cases today, senior Government Minister Chris Hipkins says.
He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that from what he saw late yesterday - hours after the announcement of 45 cases - there was a "relatively small number" identified, although "you never know what's going to come in overnight".
Hipkins, the Covid-19 Response Minister, said the Government still wanted to get "down to zero" cases and it wasn't waving the white flag yet.
Asked on TVNZ's Breakfast if a move to level 2 for Auckland next week was starting to look unlikely, Hipkins was somewhat coy, saying: "Not necessarily".
"I take some comfort from the fact that the majority of those cases were linked, with known contacts who were already isolating, but a big number is still a big number, there's no question about that," he told Hosking.
Asked whether workers returning to work under level 3 were playing a factor - including construction workers coming into Auckland city - Hipkins said even if we had been at level 4, we might still have had a big day of cases yesterday, based on what experts knew about the sub-clusters in the outbreak.
Hipkins later told The AM Show that the Government had not made the decision on whether Auckland would change levels next week, but they did want to be able to give Aucklanders back more freedoms as soon as they could.
Hipkins said they often knew some things about mystery cases such as if there was an epidemiological link. He wouldn't be drawn on the number of mystery cases the Government could tolerate to still move levels. "We typically hold that decision-making until the last possible point."
He said there had been instances of rule breaking that had resulted in some people spreading the virus.
Hipkins told Hosking that yesterday's initial 12 unlinked community cases were now down to about six. Some of the cases involved people transitional housing.
In the case of gangs, Hipkins said the contact tracers had been getting good cooperation from them to work out their movements.
First doses of vaccines were currently lower than they needed to be at the moment if they wanted to reach their vaccination goal by Christmas. As for incentives, Hipkins said there were some out there already, "whether we offer a nationwide incentive going forward, I certainly wouldn't rule that out".
The more people vaccinated the better, in order to get New Zealand down alert levels, he said.
Hipkins said no country wanted to have to deal with an outbreak that New Zealand had been enduring. He ruled out a more direct approach about testing, saying that relied on goodwill and it "only works if people are willing to cooperate".
Covid modeller professor Shaun Hendy said he never read too much into one day's numbers, but the 12 mystery cases were quite alarming.
"Unfortunately this is a signal we may see more cases in the future," he told The AM Show.
Epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson told The AM Show the 45 cases were a "wake-up call" for New Zealanders and we would probably see this getting worse. He said the only way to win the war was by vaccination. "But politicians have to stop sniping at each other..."
Jackson said elimination was only a short-term strategy and Delta had made it much shorter term. He said Auckland didn't need to go back to level 4 because level 3 was also elimination. "Auckland is not getting out of level 3 until we don't have mystery cases."
On the MIQ saga, Hipkins told TVNZ he understood that many Kiwis overseas were wanting to come home, but the Government did not want to throw everything out the window by opening borders too early.
He said the Government is not passing judgement on the reasons why New Zealanders overseas were wanting to come home soon.
He said Kiwis overseas saying they should be able to come home if they are double-vaccinated still presented risks.
They could still bring back the virus even if they were double vaccinated, Hipkins said. "I acknowledge that the spaces we have in managed isolation are not sufficient."
Nervous wait for Auckland
Aucklanders are facing a nervous wait ahead of today's confirmed numbers which may indicate whether yesterday's 45 cases are an anomaly or a warning of what's to come.
Experts say it's too early to know whether yesterday's announcement - a far cry from Tuesday's eight positive cases - spells disaster for Auckland's move to alert level 2 to be decided by Cabinet on Monday.
However, their initial assessments aren't optimistic.
"Moving to level 2 would just add fuel to the fire," University of Canterbury modeller Professor Michael Plank said.
Plank, speaking to Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan yesterday, noted the legitimate risk of cases climbing "very, very rapidly" should Auckland leave alert level 3 next week.
He did acknowledge more data was required to judge whether yesterday's cases - of which 12 were unlinked - pointed to extensive transmission in the community.
"It could be that the number drops down in the next couple of days, or it could be the start of an uptick."
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National Party leader Judith Collins told TVNZ today that if the Government adopted her party's Covid response plan more New Zealanders trying to get home could be back here by Christmas.
It was time to say that not enough is being done on vaccinations, Collins said.
National did not want any more Covid-related deaths but acknowledged that even riding a bike or driving a car came with risks.
"It's important that we understand that right now, New Zealanders are suffering -particularly in Auckland."
Collins claimed people were starting to lose hope.
"This cannot continue. The rest of the world has understood we need to move on - we need to move on."
She said they believed the Government's response to the virus had been "very slack".
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said positive cases were bound to crop up given community transmission hadn't been stamped out before Auckland's move out of alert level 4.
"I have been talking for the past week about the problem of this long tail which has indicated ongoing transmission that we haven't been able to stop," Baker said.
"It means there's cases out there in the community so, inevitably, moving from alert level 4 down to alert level 3 allows more transmission from those remaining cases into the wider community."
Baker said it takes about a week for a change in alert levels to realise, as there are still infected people in the community.
"When you change alert levels, you're always looking backwards in time of seven to 10 days," he said.
"People at alert level 3 they start getting exposed, then you have the incubation period of five days and then you have to get sick enough to get tested, then you have an overnight test, a week later we finally see that [number].
"We might see the numbers just keep on climbing from now on.
"I would not regard this as a blip but this is the way we are going now. I would love to be proven wrong."
He said although it was yet to be a trend, there was still potential for a move up in alert levels.
At yesterday's press conference, director general of public health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said a day with large case numbers had been expected, given the number of known household and close contacts of existing cases.
He clarified six of the 12 unlinked cases had possible ties to existing infections, and were under investigation.
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the number of cases was "sobering" and said no one would be celebrating.
However, it was important to place it in context, knowing a lot of cases were from big households.
"We've still got to hold our nerve here," he said.
"We do expect from time to time there will be blips."
Meanwhile, concern remains over the extent to which Covid-19 has settled in gang and homeless communities.
To date, three separate gangs had witnessed Covid infections.
Bloomfield said some people in transitional or emergency housing had also caught the virus, but assured the public that cooperation with providers was high.
Pacific health director Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said at yesterday's online select committee briefing on the Government's response to Covid-19.
"If we think about the current outbreak, how it seems to have seated itself in a gang environment and the homeless, these are people that are less likely to be trusting of the health system," Clifford-Lidstone said.
"Finding people within these communities that can promote the vaccine will be very important. These are things we've started to work on."
Last week it was revealed a prospect for the Hells Angels had contracted Covid-19, the third gang in Auckland to be affected by the virus.
The positive test followed a patched member of Black Power becoming infected and spreading it to children living in his home just outside Kaiaua on the Hauraki Plains.
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Bloomfield also confirmed a volunteer at a pop-up vaccination station had tested positive for Covid-19 after having a shared morning tea with other volunteers.
He said the "small number" of people who attended the morning tea were being treated as close contacts and isolating and being tested.
Another positive test had been registered on Tuesday from a person who had attended Waitakere Hospital on Saturday, September 25. Some staff had been stood down and a small number of patients were being followed up, Bloomfield said.
It comes as two investigations have been launched into how a police officer and junior sailor allegedly breached Auckland's alert level boundary without exemptions in two separate incidents.
The Herald revealed the police officer to be Inspector Regan Tamihere, the Māori Responsiveness Manager for the Counties Manukau police district.
Sources told the Herald he was driving an unmarked police car and in full uniform when he was stopped at the border with passengers.
Those passengers were iwi contacts he knows through his position with police.
A source said earlier today he was "doing a favour" for those contacts.
One source said Tamihere was challenged by police staff manning the southern border - but they reportedly allowed him through after he insisted they couldn't say no to him.
Tamihere told them that he could cross the border because he was an essential worker.
It was later revealed the Navy was investigating how a fully vaccinated junior sailor reportedly travelled to attend the funeral of a close family member without a Ministry of Health travel exemption.
"The sailor has been instructed to isolate in their rural property in Hawke's Bay and get a Covid test," the New Zealand Defence Force said.
"The RNZN is investigating the alleged border breach and the surrounding circumstances. The regional health authority has been informed."
The Deputy Chief of Navy, Commodore Melissa Ross, said: "An investigation is currently under way into how the sailor managed to cross the border without an MoH exemption or essential travel status.
"While we acknowledge this junior sailor has experienced a significant loss and had wanted to support whānau, like many other New Zealanders in the same position, they must abide by the border restrictions in place and play their part in keeping New Zealand safe."