New Zealanders who have managed to escape coming into contact with Covid-19 should prepare to find it at Christmas, a leading epidemiologist warned, as the country accelerates the launch of the vaccine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday that the ambitious elimination strategy will soon be phased out as vaccination rates rise. The move has caused some alarm among experts, who warn that a change in strategy and easing of restrictions while vaccination rates remain low could disproportionately and negatively affect communities vulnerable to the virus, including Maori and the pasifika.
The country reported 39 new cases of the Delta variant in the community on Wednesday, bringing the total from the latest outbreak to 1,420. All but 18 of the active cases are in Auckland, with the remainder in Waikato, the region immediately south of the Auckland border.
Just over 77% of New Zealanders have received their first dose of the vaccine and 48% are fully inoculated.
Speaking to RNZ on Thursday, epidemiologist Michael Baker said: “I basically think that … all New Zealanders should plan to find this virus in the next few months and act accordingly.”
Baker added that now is the time to fight it and that the best way to do that is through vaccination.
On Thursday, the government encouraged people to reduce the time between vaccine doses to three weeks instead of the previously recommended six weeks, which Baker said is the correct measure.
“For example, if you have your first dose next week, you will receive your second dose three weeks later in early November and will be fully protected in mid-November, so I think that’s really what people should plan for.” What to do, and the problem is, if you have a six-week gap between your two doses, that really pushes that protection into December, and some people might miss out at that stage.
On Wednesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced new measures to increase vaccination rates, including a national “Super Saturday” day of action on October 16.
“On that day, we will have vaccination clinics open throughout Aotearoa all day and into the night and a bit like Election Day, we will ask all of our civic and political leaders to contribute to a great effort to get the people out.”
Communities and health centers are devising innovative solutions to help the momentum, including an Auckland vaccination center that will attract a all night this weekend.
The Tāmaki Vaccination Center, run by Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei, the Maori tribe from central Auckland, will open at 8 a.m. Friday and will continue to vaccinate until 6:30 a.m. M. From Saturday, with a DJ playing tunes on Friday night and the staff running a barbecue.
The center aims to reach people who struggle to get vaccinated during the day, including those who work the night shift.
Meanwhile, Auckland teachers have told RNZ they are deeply concerned about the prospect of schools reopening on October 18, after school holidays.
The Auckland Region Vice President of the Post Primary Teachers Association, Paul Stevens, said he was unhappy when there was still community transmission of Covid-19.
Basically, the government was asking schools to operate at alert level 2 while the rest of Auckland was operating at level 3, he said.
“October 18 is fast approaching, and I think the main thing the teachers feel right now is the uneasiness about the uncertainty of what it will be like once we get back.”
Hipkins, who is also the education minister, said the cabinet would vote on Monday to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for teachers.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism