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Auckland will once again be cut off from the majority of the country from midnight tonight, with fears the city could be heading for New Zealand's longest level 4 lockdown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning said the Wellington outbreak is believed to be contained, while Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says "active conversations are happening" in an attempt to get more vaccines into the country.
Hipkins told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking just after 7am that he does not have the latest numbers yet today.
Regarding yesterday's reduced number of positive cases, Hipkins said it was too early to describe it as a trend and he would keep his fingers crossed.
He wanted to see the numbers drop and stay low but it was still too early to say if that was the case or not.
They were seeing cases being linked faster and linked earlier, which was encouraging.
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As for delays with delivery of the Pfizer vaccine, Hipkins said there were 10.1 million on order by the end of October - so if each Kiwi had two doses each they would still have some left.
"We have always been pushing hard to get more vaccines into the country," Hipkins told Hosking.
As for what the Government is doing about speeding up the vaccine delivery, Hipkins said "active conversations are happening" and they would be shared "once they were signed on the dotted line".
Hipkins said he hoped to be able to tell Kiwis about more vaccines coming to New Zealand in the next couple of days.
"We're trying to ink some arrangements to get some more vaccine into the country."
Asked if this should have been done in February, Hipkins said there were no extra doses available at that stage.
"I haven't regretted that decision," Hipkins said.
But asked by RNZ this morning about reports that the Government was close to a vaccine deal with another country, Ardern said that was "speculative".
"We are working hard to increase supply," said Ardern, but wouldn't get into specifics on exactly how.
She wouldn't be drawn on if that was a deal with Pfizer or another country to ensure New Zealand had enough supply.
"It is not the case that we are going to run out," Ardern said.
If more vaccines couldn't be obtained, then the country would revert to its original plan of delivering 350,000 jabs a week.
Ardern told the AM Show said the Government already had on order from Pfizer enough vaccine for everyone in New Zealand. The issue was that the bulk of the order was due in October.
She said they were doing everything they could do to meet demand right now and felt the general population wanted to get the same vaccine as other loved ones.
There were also challenges of rolling out two different vaccines at the same site and it could also increase the margin of error.
She also expected an announcement later this week on whether more vaccine would be available sooner.
Hipkins, meanwhile, told Newstalk ZB said the jury wasn't settled about mixing different types of vaccines.
Asked about buying all of them, Hipkins said "we effectively did buy heaps of them".
"We bought enough to buy the country three times over."
Hipkins said he wasn't involved in the purchasing decision of focusing on Pfizer.
There was a technical advisory group who gave advice on vaccines who said Pfizer was "incredibly effective".
As for redistributing the vaccine into Auckland, Hipkins said they didn't want to be cancelling vaccine appointments anywhere.
"Situations can change very rapidly and we want as many Kiwis vaccinated as possible."
Wellington outbreak believed to be 'contained': PM
Ardern this morning told TV1's Breakfast that she had not been advised that there were any health risks relating to the two Hello Fresh employees who have tested positive for Covid-19.
"Of course, the health team are aware of those cases."
Ardern said public health officials "absolutely believe" that the Covid situation in Wellington is contained.
Asked if NZ had enough vaccines in the country, Ardern said: "We won't run out of vaccine."
Health officials are now trying to figure out whether we can meet the high demand for the vaccine.
She said the worst-case scenario would be for vaccinations to go back to the roll-out plan made before the current lockdown.
She later told RNZ the focus on Covid testing would be on any new chains of transmission.
Ardern said level four restrictions were working.
"Without a doubt. We just need to keep going and see that curve [of rising cases] doing down."
Auckland's two-week lockdown 'the shortest plausible duration'
Ardern confirmed yesterday that the rest of the country south of Auckland will move to alert level 3 as of midnight tonight.
Northland will join the rest of the country at alert level 3 at midnight on Thursday, leaving Auckland alone at level 4 until at least September 14 - its isolation enforced by strict police barriers set up across the regional boundary.
While those level 3 settings will be reviewed by the Cabinet on September 6, Auckland's settings will not be reviewed until September 13.
That means that the rest of the country could be heading to the relative freedom of alert level 2 long before Auckland has left level 4.
University of Auckland Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy said it was "hard to tell right now" whether Auckland might be able to start moving down the alert level scale then.
Hendy said the two-week extension is "definitely the shortest plausible duration".
"If numbers continue to fall steadily this week - and that is possible - then two weeks may be about right. If a clear downward trend doesn't emerge this week, then we may be looking at three to four weeks or more."
If Auckland's level 4 is extended a week beyond the current review, the city would have spent longer at level 4 than during the first lockdown, which lasted for just under five weeks.
Ardern offered a carrot to Auckland - as well as the rest of the country, saying "the more we do to limit our contact, the faster we exit these restrictions".
But she also warned that "level three does not mean freedom, it means caution."
So far, the outlook is mixed. Monday delivered a relatively low number of new cases, just 53. That compares with more than 80 new cases each day over the weekend. The hope is the drop is the beginning of a trend for lower daily cases, and not a blip.
While, for most of us, alert level 3 is disparaged as "level 4 with takeaways", for businesses it means a lot more.
Treasury's most recent estimates has the economy operating at 25-30 per cent below normal at alert level 4.
At alert level 3, it operates at 15 to 20 per cent below normal.
Auckland's legion of retail and hospitality businesses will look across the regional boundary with envy, watching their counterparts in the rest of the country fire up takeaway and click and collect services.
Call for compensation
The Restaurant Association responded to Auckland's alert level extension by calling for compensation for the sacrifice businesses are making.
"The Auckland hospitality industry in particular is paying a heavy price for the elimination strategy," said chief executive Marisa Bidois.
Bidois said recent feedback from members showed whilst they largely support level 4, 75 per cent wouldn't be financially viable after two weeks at this level.
"Our industry knows what it needs to do to help us to eliminate Covid once again, but we feel that there should be specific compensation offered to those who stand to lose the most."
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that most Aucklanders, while not liking the extension of alert level 4, would understand the necessity for it given the Delta variant is highly contagious and spreads rapidly.
"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 Auckland, the gateway to New Zealand and the area with most of the quarantine facilities, has carried the burden for much of the country and called on the Government to help the region to meet the costs of the lockdown.
"Auckland has already over the last 18 months been at higher lockdown levels than the rest of the country, and this will continue. Aucklanders are more vulnerable and at greater risk."
Goff told RNZ he was keen for Auckland to get priority for Covid-19 vaccines given the city was at greater risk.
He spoke to Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall about this.
Asked if he was disappointed about a potential jab supply squeeze, Goff didn't think the Government had been "caught out".
He was keen to maintain a level of about 25,000 jabs a day in Auckland while in alert level 4.
He didn't want other parts of New Zealand to miss out, however.
Trusts Stadium in Henderson was flooded and the drive-thru vaccination centre wouldn't open until 11am today, Goff said.
The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre says it will be unable to open its drive through vaccination sites at the Trusts Arena and Airport Park and Ride until 11am while they clean up after the overnight storm in Auckland.
"We are working to contact those impacted to see if we can divert them to other locations."
Te Whānau o Waipareira staff at the vaccination centre at Trusts Arena, in Henderson, said they were working hard to get things set up again, after tents were blown away overnight.
Staff reported vehicles already queuing outside the stadium.
They were working to get the drive-thru vaccination clinic up and running by about 10am, a staff member said on a Facebook live video.
Disbelief in Waikato
Newstalk ZB reports there's disbelief one Waikato street will move to level 3 at midnight and the other will stay at level 4.
Auckland will remain at level 4 for another fortnight, but everywhere south of there will drop to level 3.
However, people on one side of a Mercer street will stay with Auckland in level 4 and the other will move with Waikato to level 3.
Waikato District Mayor Alan Sanson told Newstalk ZB's Kate Hawkesby it doesn't make sense. He says disgruntled farmers have emailed him saying they're bewildered, and he can't believe it either.
Ardern, Collins clash on vaccines
Meanwhile in Parliament, which is gearing up for the return of normal sitting on Tuesday, Ardern and National leader Judith Collins yesterday traded blows over the state of the vaccine rollout and the length of lockdown.
Ardern again acknowledged that the vaccine rollout could not proceed at its current pace because supplies could not keep pace with demand.
The Government is currently trying to secure extra doses of the vaccine to cope with the surge in demand, but has not ruled out measures that would slow the rollout.
Opposition leader Judith Collins said the rollout was "as slow as a slow waltz", and said the biggest thing the Government could do is to "get more vaccines and get more people vaccinated".
Ardern told RNZ this morning that it wasn't appropriate for MPs to meet in Parliament.
Given the business committee was unable to meet a consensus on Parliament meeting, an option was put forward for all ministers to be available online.
National and Act rejected that, Ardern said.
Ardern didn't want to suspend Parliament again and had been left with "little choice."
Only five Labour MPs would be present.
Ardern told the AM show the Labour Party had not brought anyone into Wellington. She was only aware of one situation where an MP had travelled but it was inter-regional.
However, she added that the National leader Judith Collins had not broken any rules by travelling from Auckland to Wellington as she was classed as an essential worker.
Meanwhile, Hipkins was yesterday forced to concede he was wrong when he said that the remainder of New Zealand's order of 10 million doses would arrive by the end of the third quarter – September 30.
Hipkins clarified the record on Monday saying he had misinterpreted his advice, leading to his calculation being out by a month.
"I was advised that agreement had been reached with Pfizer for all our vaccines to arrive by October, which I interpreted to be in the third quarter," Hipkins said.
"I was subsequently advised the delivery schedule was through to the end of October. I accept that my statement at the time was not totally correct."
National is putting pressure on the Government to "supercharge" the rollout and vaccinate vulnerable people, especially communities in South Auckland.
Collins also hinted at frustrations in the South Island, which is following the rest of the country down the alert level scale, despite having had no cases in the latest outbreak.
Meanwhile, an anti-vaccination protest is expected to descend on Parliament tomorrow, angry at the rollout.