Overcrowding could be an issue for self-isolation

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

More than ten thousand close contacts across the country (excluding schools and the like) are in self-isolation, and with over 200 locations of interest connected to the delta outbreak in Auckland that number is due to rise. 

The Ministry of Health is telling people who are close contacts to stay home and to try to stay away from their household members. The ministry website outlines a list of things to do while self-isolating. One of the to-dos on the list is, "You should maintain a 2-metre distance from your household members and should not share a bed or bedroom with any member of your household."

The government has identified that Māori and Pasifika households are made up differently and often share space with generations of whānau. Having nanny and koro living alongside mums and dads and mokopuna is not uncommon. 

This, however, means that for a portion of the more than10,000 people who are close contacts isolating may be hard. Te Ao Mārama asked the  Public Health director Dr Caroline McElnay about what is being done and she said, "We are very aware of that situation, and it was a conversation we were having this morning with the Auckland district health boards and how to enable and support families to be able to do that."

Isolation for overcrowded whānau

This has also led the government to look into other options, including "a facility where we can isolate close contacts who can't isolate easily from their households."   

Overcrowded homes may also be an issue. The 2013 census showed 398,295 people lived in crowded homes. Of these 129,123 were in severely crowded homes. About half of all crowded homes were in Auckland; the highest rates were in south Auckland. Crowding was highest for people with Pacific ethnicity (39.8 percent), followed by people with Māori (20.0 percent) or Asian (18.4 percent) ethnicity.

Te Ao Mārama asked about the risk of such living situations and at today's media conference both the doctor and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were observed with a sense of warning in their voices.

Dr McElnay said, "What we do know with the delta variant, in particular, is that household transmission is a real likelihood. And so it is important particularly when we know we have a case. That's why we do have a different accommodation option for people who are identified as cases." The prime minister referred to lessons from overseas experience, saying, "Previously, you'd see some infection in households but not the entire household," which is seen to be happening overseas.

Seven schools in Auckland have reported positive return tests. De La Salle College, McAuley High School, Avondale College, Northcote College, Lynfield College, and now Western Springs College had a student return a positive test last night, and Pukekohe High School had a staff member return a positive test. The combined student population affected by this outbreak stretches to 12,000.

Outbreak inevitable

The outbreak seemed inevitable and reports from Māori medical professionals and leaders before the outbreak said should delta enter the community, the effects on Māori would be devastating.

"It's why we are in level 4 to prevent that devastation in those communities," Ardern said.

"Part of our strategy has always been designed around Aotearoa New Zealand's population, so we already knew that if we had even before Delta, if we had a covid outbreak, it would be devastating for our Māori and Pasifika communities

"That's often down to the way our communities live but also some of the health inequalities we have in New Zealand. So that is part of the reason we have an elimination strategy so we can prevent that devastation across those communities,"  she says.

Meanwhile, ACT leader David Seymour says the government has questions to answer. On Q&A this morning, the Minister for Covid Response, Chris Hipkins, said, “Delta raises some big questions that we’re going to have to grapple with."

But Seymour says three weeks ago in a select committee hearing, Hipkins could not give one example of what the government has done in response to the emergence of Delta.

“Hipkins also admitted the vaccine rollout could have been faster if we’d had access to vaccines other than Pfizer," Seymour says. "The government needs to let us know whether other vaccines are now being considered. This is simply not good enough."

Critics are saying that the outbreak means a longer lockdown is also inevitable. 

Record high testing numbers 

As for testing numbers, Saturday hit an all-time high to date, with 41,464 tests processed across New Zealand. Some 31,000 of those were in Auckland, a new regional high. Wellington had 2,500. 

Covid-19 was strongly detected in wastewater samples collected from Warkworth on Tuesday and anyone in the area who has been to a location of interest at the date and time specified on the Ministry of Health website is to self-isolate and get tested. 

On vaccination, the Ministry of Health data says nearly 2.7 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were administered by 11.59 pm on August 20.  Of those, 1.71 million are first doses and 983,000 are second doses.

Just under 150,000 Mâori have received their first vaccination. Of these, more than 90,000 have also had their second vaccinations. Nearly 100,000 doses have been administered to Pacific peoples. Of these, more than 61,000 have also received their second doses.

Te Ao Mārama asked the Prime Minister and Doctor Bloomfield whether there is a vaccine rollout plan for the homeless but we have not yet received a response.