Lockdown rule breakers have enraged many New Zealanders, as the country struggles to tackle a number of mystery Covid cases.
The country reported 54 new cases of Covid-19 over the weekend, and 33 new cases on Monday – a slight rise from last week’s average. While the overall trajectory of the outbreak is still moving well down from its peak, officials are concerned about the cases that investigators and contact tracers have not yet been able to link.
Thirty-two of Monday’s cases were linked to existing cases – but a total of 27 cases over the course of the outbreak, all in Auckland, have not yet been epidemiologically linked, including 17 cases active in the last 14 days, raising concerns that there could still be chains of transmission in the wider community. The ministry of health said 10 of the 27 are now more than 14 days old.
“The detection of mystery cases unlinked to the current outbreak is concerning,” immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu of University of Otago Wellington said in a statement. Those cases made it less likely that Auckland would be able to shift out of lockdown, she said. “Community transmission appears to continue, and it will be important to identify and break new transmission paths for the virus quickly. The unlinked cases highlight the need for everyone to remain vigilant.”
The Auckland region remains in a strict lockdown as New Zealand battles to extinguish its Delta outbreak. Later on Monday prime minister Jacinda Ardern will announce whether the city will continue at level 4, and whether the rest of the county will continue at level 2 – out of lockdown, but with some remaining restrictions on gathering size and mask-wearing.
As the country waits for that decision, one couple sparked outrage when they were caught dodging city border protections to take a holiday to Wanaka, in the South Island.
Police called it a “calculated and deliberate flouting of the Alert Level 4 restrictions”. A police spokesperson said the trip was “completely unacceptable and will be extremely upsetting to all those who are working hard and making great sacrifices in order to stamp out Covid in our community.”
Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult told the New Zealand Herald the couple were “unbelievably selfish” and had jeopardised people’s health and livelihoods. They had used essential worker clearances to cross the border out of Auckland to Hamilton, and fly from there to their holiday home in Wanaka. Police said they would be charged and appear in court later this month.
Overall, compliance with New Zealand’s lockdown has been strong – but police said in the Auckland region, 67 people had been charged with a total of 71 offences as of Saturday.
The country also reached a new milestone in its vaccine rollout, with two-thirds of the eligible population having had at least one dose. Sixty-six% of the eligible population (those aged 12 and older) have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 34% are fully vaccinated*.
*A note on data: the Guardian has begun calculating the percentage of NZ’s eligible population vaccinated from Statistics New Zealand population data, comparing numbers vaccinated against a total 12+ population of 4,355,300. This may differ slightly from government-generated percentages that use different denominators, such as the Health Service Utilisation Population – which measures all those 12+ who are engaged with the health system.