All of New Zealand will remain in lockdown until at least Friday, while Auckland will remain in level 4 until at least 31 August with 35 new community cases taking the total to 107.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement this afternoon saying delta had “got a headstart” in New Zealand before the lockdown.
She said early modelling suggested that the country would not reach the peak of the outbreak until day eight to 10 after lockdown started and currently New Zealand is only at day 6.
Ardern said known contacts are spread across New Zealand and there may be more contacts that are still not known.
She said Cabinet made the decision to extend the lockdown on the basis that the safest option now was to hold the course for longer.
Cabinet has decided all of New Zealand will remain at level 4 for an additional four days, until 11.59pm, Friday 27 August. Ardern said these settings would be reviewed on Friday.
Auckland will continue to be the main location of the outbreak and will remain in alert level 4 until 11.59pm on Tuesday, August 31, Ardern said. The level of Auckland’s setting will be reviewed next Monday.
Ardern said the extra time by delaying the drop in alert levels gives New Zealand additional data and information and time to test.
Parliament suspended for a week
Ardern also this afternoon announced that Parliament would be suspended for a week but said select committees would continue online.
She said asking ministers to make themselves available to appear before select committees “will allow us to balance safety and scrutiny”.
Parliament can be postponed up to a month during an epidemic under section 55 of the standing orders, but the leaders of all parties must be consulted first and it must be on the written recommendation of the Director-General of Health.
Opposition parties have been calling for Parliament to begin again in alert level 4 conditions, or reinstate the Epidemic Response Committee as a minimum, saying suspension of Parliament is undemocratic.
National leader Judith Collins said important questions needed to be answered about how the delta variant got into New Zealand, and suspending Parliament meant the government would avoid that scrutiny.
ACT leader David Seymour said it was very different from having an opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee as was seen in the previous lockdown and – far from all parties agreeing – the decision was one “dictated by Jacinda Ardern alone”.
Covid-19 stats: 35 new community cases
In a statement the Ministry of Health said there were 35 new community cases of covid-19 today – 33 of them in Auckland and two of them in Wellington.
That brings the total number of cases in the community outbreak to 107 with 99 of them in Auckland and eight in Wellington.
There were also three new cases today announced in managed isolation.
The ministry said it was continuing to add locations of interest as interviews from confirmed cases were completed by the public health staff.
As of Monday night there were more than 400 locations of interest listed on the ministry’s website, the bulk of them in Auckland.
That includes anyone who went to the Samoan Assembly of God Church in Māngere on 15 August between 9am and 3pm that day.
The cluster has also spread to Wellington with three of the cases now in the capital.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the church represented the single event with the most number of cases.
Dr Bloomfield said that more than 50 percent of this outbreak’s covid-19 cases are of Pacific ethnicity and a further breakdown of cases by ethnicity is being prepared.
Crowne Plaza investigation
At the briefing regarding alert levels, Ardern said the public walkway at the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Auckland had not been established to have been a problem.
She said it had barriers between, and ventilation, and had been assessed by infection control experts, but “we’ve ruled nothing in or out right now”.
Health authorities have revealed the time that the person with the earliest identified case of the delta variant was in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
They say if transmission had occurred in the lobby it would have been on Saturday, August 7, between 10pm and 11pm.
The Ministry of Health has been trying to track down six people who were in an adjacent walkway at the time.
Of the six, four have been identified using CCTV and three of them have tested negative. Two are still to be identified.
Contact tracing system under pressure
By Monday evening, there were more than 400 locations of interest and more than 13,000 close contacts in the Auckland outbreak.
Contact tracers are working around the clock as they try to track down people who potentially came into contact with the virus at running events, in supermarkets, at fast food outlets and on public transport.
Auckland authorities are urgently recruiting more contact tracers to keep up with the demand.
Laboratories, testing sites and vaccination centres are also straining at the seams as the health system struggles to keep pace with the delta incursion.
Dr Bloomfield said the country’s contact tracing system was working at 100 percent, with its covid surge plan in full use.
Ardern said she had not heard of an instance where contacts had not been home when contacted by tracers. She said it is very heartening to see a lack of cases which had been infectious in the community, compared to what had been seen in New South Wales.
Police ‘pleased’ with lockdown compliance despite breaches
People are generally complying with the lockdown though a small number of incidents are still cropping up, police say.
By 5pm yesterday, 29 people nationwide had been charged with 33 offences related to breaking the lockdown rules since it came into effect at 11.59pm on August 17.
Those arrests were primarily the result of lockdown protests.
Another 85 people had been given a warning.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the public’s behaviour was generally good.
“Officers will remain out and about in our communities, particularly at high-demand locations such as supermarkets and covid-19 testing and vaccination sites,” he said.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.