Auckland will stay in alert level 4 lockdown for at least two more weeks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed. The decision will be reviewed on September 13.
Northland will go to level 3 at 11.59pm on Thursday if wastewater tests - which are due on Thursday - come back clear.
The rest of the country will move to level 3 - as earlier planned - from 11.59pm tomorrow night. Level 3 will remain in place for a week and will be reviewed on September 6.
After Cabinet met to discuss the country's alert levels, Ardern said today's numbers showed level 4 was making a difference, with cases decreasing outside of households.
But, she said, "we need to be confident any cases we may have are contained and isolated".
Everyone in Auckland knows we are not there yet, Ardern said.
The PM presented a graph which indicated what would have happened if we hadn't moved quickly into lockdown, with cases "literally off the charts", totalling 550 per day.
"The more we do to limit our contact, the faster we exit these restrictions."
Ardern cited evidence offshore where countries were battling high hospitalisation rates.
She had a message for those outside Auckland. "Level three does not mean freedom, it means caution."
She said Auckland was doing a huge service, maintaining a gateway to the world and working hard to keep Kiwis safe during the outbreak.
It was too soon to say whether New Zealand had reached the outbreak's peak, Ardern said.
"Whether or not we have plateaued ... I do think we need more time."
Ardern said it is still not clear what the source of the outbreak was at the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility. A ventilation review had already been completed, but she hoped another look could be taken from a "Delta perspective".
It was her understanding that no one had been put back into the Crowne Plaza.
Asked how concerned officials were about transmission among essential workers, Ardern said only four workers had been infected. However, she said it was important to adapt guidance for essential services if improvements could be made.
She hadn't seen any cases in businesses which shouldn't be operating in lockdown.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there would be a deep dive into those four positive cases to make sure advice could be adapted as needed.
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On staff isolating at the Devonport naval base due to a positive wastewater test, all tests had come back negative, Bloomfield said. He wasn't sure why a positive result was found but said the right protocols were followed.
On the passport vaccination issue, Bloomfield confirmed it was not necessary to show a passport for a jab.
However, he explained the process of accessing an NHI number can be expedited by showing documentation. He was assured no particular group of people was being targeted in this way.
"Everybody in the programme is very aware ... that no one is required to show identification."
Ardern said the only requirement to get a jab was to physically be in New Zealand.
She said she wasn't aware of people being asked to present their passports before.
Asked how people will be able to prove they had been vaccinated, Ardern said vaccination was associated with a person's health records.
If someone didn't have an NHI number, one would be created for them. If anyone needed proof of vaccination for things like travel, the Ministry of Health could provide a letter.
On quarantine capacity, Ardern said the backlog had been cleared and infected people were moving into one of two new facilities which had been onboarded.
Her understanding was that all cases were moving into MIQ.
MIQ vouchers - which were usually continually released - were on hold currently because facilities were being used for positive Covid cases, Ardern said.
She didn't have a timeline for when the vouchers would available again. She added the Crowne Plaza - one of the bigger MIQ facilities - was closed due to its link to the outbreak.
Ardern said the ability to expand the number of MIQ rooms was severely limited by workforce shortages.
53 new community cases
The alert level decisions come as 53 cases, all in Auckland, were announced on Monday. After highs of 82 and 83 in the preceding days, the drop is the strongest indication yet the lockdown in place since August 18 is having an impact.
Bloomfield described today's data as encouraging.
He said of yesterday's 83 cases, 72 per cent didn't create any new exposure events. Of yesterday's cases, only 28 per cent were considered to be infectious in the community.
Bloomfield said the R value was now under 1, which was a good sign.
One hundred and one essential workers were cases, but many were from earlier in the outbreak, Bloomfield said. Four were infectious in their workplace and seven had been infected in their workplace.
Regardless, Ardern on Friday signalled alert level 4 settings for Auckland and Northland were likely to be extended another week, and potentially two for Auckland - the epicentre of the outbreak with 547 of the 562 cases.
The other 15 cases are all in Wellington, but are contacts of Auckland cases.
Thirty-seven cases are now in hospital. Of those, five patients are in ICU, three of whom require ventilation.
Asked whether the large number of Pasifika in hospital with Covid was a failure of public health, Ardern simply that "that's Covid-19".
More than 100 arrested
Police said 107 people have been charged with 115 lockdown-related offences from the start of lockdown through to 5pm Sunday. Authorities also issued warnings to 293 people during that same time period.
Police have also issued nearly 2200 infringements, including 2018 for people accused of failing to remain at their residence, 47 for people who failed to wear a mask at premises or on public transport, 13 for workplaces that failed to display QR codes, six for businesses that didn't close as required, 62 for failing to comply with physical distancing rules and eight for people accused of organising outdoor gatherings.
Close to 47,900 Covid vaccines were administered yesterday - a record for a Sunday. Over 50 per cent of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose.
Of the 3.33 million doses of the vaccine administered to date, 2.17 million are first doses and 1.16 million are second doses.
Ardern said rates of vaccinations would be looked at during the week to see how long current levels could be maintained while having enough in stock.
Over 300,000 doses had been delivered weekly and Ardern said she was working on whether NZ could "move beyond that".
Asked whether vaccines were being diverted from other regions for Auckland, Ardern said there wasn't a need as demand had been met.
The current approach was being reviewed to make sure bookings were maintained and demand was met, especially in Auckland.
Asked why Māori-focused vaccination was only ramping up now, Ardern said it fitted with vaccines being more readily available and more people becoming eligible.
For rest home vaccinations or people being cared for at home, Ardern said some thought had been put in. Rest homes had been visited by vaccinators through their local DHBs and most rest homes had been offered vaccinations.
Those with disabilities and people being cared for at home had been provided for in a way that best suited them, including through vaccination clinics that operated in a low-sensory environment.
The point of contact for people caring for others at home was to use Healthline or the Book My Vaccine website.
There are now 79 confirmed cases in the Birkdale Social Network cluster and 280 in the Māngere church cluster.
The ministry said ESR has run whole genome sequencing on samples taken from about 345 community cases. Analysis shows they are all genomically linked to the current outbreak.
Yesterday 16,370 tests were processed across New Zealand. That was lower than the 36,000 tests on Thursday and 37,000 on Friday.
Death linked to Pfizer vaccine
Meanwhile, a woman has died after developing myocarditis, a rare side effect of the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
The Ministry of Health said this was the first case in New Zealand where a death in the days following vaccination has been linked to the Pfizer vaccine.
The Ministry said the Covid-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board advised officials to ensure that healthcare professionals and consumers remained vigilant and were aware of the signs of myocarditis and pericarditis following her death.
"The CV-ISMB considered that the myocarditis was probably due to vaccination. The CV-ISMB noted that there were other medical issues occurring at the same time which may have influenced the outcome following vaccination," said the Ministry in a statement.
The woman's death had been referred to the Coroner and the cause of death had not yet been determined, said the Ministry.
Asked about vaccine hesitancy in light of the vaccine-related death, Bloomfield recognised it would be a worry for some, but reassured people that there was plenty of evidence the vaccine was safe and myocarditis was very rare.
He said it was important to make the information public so people could identify relevant symptoms.
Bloomfield offered his condolences to the family, crediting them for being available so the information could be made public.
While the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring had received other reports of deaths in someone recently vaccinated, none were considered related to vaccination.
The Ministry said the benefits of vaccination using the Pfizer brand continued to greatly outweigh the risk of both Covid infection and vaccine side effects, including myocarditis.
Auckland carrying the burden - Mayor
After today's alert level announcement, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that most Aucklanders - while not liking the level 4 lockdown extension - would understand that it was necessary.
"The Delta variant is highly contagious and spreads rapidly," he said.
"We know from Sydney's experience that unless lockdowns are swiftly implemented, are strong and well-supported, the pandemic quickly gets out of control.
"We all want to get back to life as normal as quickly as possible, but for that to happen the lockdown has to stay in place until the spread of the virus has been suppressed.
"The alternative is allowing huge numbers of people to become unwell, sometimes with lasting consequences, people to die in their hundreds and our hospitals and intensive care units to be overwhelmed."
Goff said it was great the rest of the country could move to level 3, however as the gateway city to New Zealand with most of the country's quarantine facilities, Auckland has carried the burden for much of the country.
"Auckland has already over the last 18 months been at higher lockdown levels than the rest of the country, and this will continue.
"Because we live in the gateway city, Aucklanders are more vulnerable and at greater risk."
He said it would be important the Government took all the steps that it could to help the region to meet the costs of the lockdown.
"We acknowledge that ongoing support such as through the wage subsidy will be important. We ask the Government to consider support for Auckland Transport which is losing over $4 million a week to provide essential services with only 6 per cent of its normal fare take.
"But most important will be to ensure that maximum vaccinations are done over the next month while the city is at a high alert level.
"It is critically important that people are better protected against the virus and to reduce the risks of the disease reoccurring in the region and spreading across the country."