Experts are saying today’s increase in positive Covid cases doesn’t automatically rule out an alert level shift for Auckland next week.
However, with nine cases today yet to be linked to the outbreak, experts believe several days of no such cases are needed for Cabinet to be confident in moving the City of Sails out of lockdown.
Twenty-three cases in the community – all in Auckland – were announced today, more than double the 11 cases from yesterday.
There are now 902 cases linked to the outbreak – 885 in Auckland (279 have recovered) and 17 in Wellington (10 have recovered).
Nineteen people are in hospital: four at North Shore, seven at Middlemore and eight at Auckland City. Four are in intensive care or high dependency units.
A ministry spokesperson acknowledged the slight increase in cases but said such volatility was likely at this point, with day five and day 12 tests due for close contacts and further investigations being carried out into any unlinked cases.
Nine of today’s cases are yet to be epidemiologically linked, taking the total number of unlinked cases to 36.
Cabinet will debate on Monday whether to shift Auckland out of alert level 4.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said there wasn’t enough information regarding the unlinked cases to know how they might impact the chance of an alert level change for Auckland.
“It [would be] good to know what proportion of them are proving difficult to link,” he said.
“If some of those are going back quite a few days, they’re not so meaningful, we are really more interested in [recent cases].
“It would be more helpful to know tomorrow, how many cases reported today were still unlinked after [investigation].”
However, Baker said the jump in cases was not an unexpected characteristic during Delta outbreaks.
He cited multiple reasons why today’s total could be larger, including the possibility people in larger bubbles with positive cases were now becoming symptomatic.
Baker also referenced how asymptomatic people could be unconsciously spreading the virus at essential workplaces – as evidenced by the number of supermarkets and laundromats announced as locations of interest recently.
However, he conceded moving Auckland to alert level 3 early next week was “extremely unlikely”.
“I think we’re going to have see low numbers consistently for several days and that we’re not seeing a pattern of any more unexpected cases.
“[An alert level shift next week] is certainly not impossible … overall, things are going in a very positive direction.”
Infectious diseases modeller Mick Roberts said he was disappointed to hear case numbers had increased from yesterday.
However, similar to Baker, Roberts said the progression of case numbers was not expected to be linear, as day 5 and day 12 tests were returned.
“The overall trend is important and I’m looking forward to the numbers decreasing again during the week, hopefully.”
Roberts, who lived in Auckland, acknowledged the concern around the number of unlinked cases, which he saw as a potential sticking point for the Government.
“I’d be surprised if Cabinet decided we could reduce the alert level in Auckland in the next few days.
“I have been hoping for that, but I think they’d be brave to do it unless it’s a drastic drop [in cases].”
Roberts, a Massey University mathematical biology professor, speculated Auckland could be treated in a similar way to Northland, which was kept in lockdown for several days longer than the rest of the country as a precautionary measure, with the assurance that if tests remained negative, the region would shift to level 3.
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