Jacinda Ardern blames rule-breakers as New Zealand sees record rise in Covid cases

Health officials have not been able to link over half of Tuesday’s cases to existing infections

Namita Singh
Tuesday 19 October 2021 17:53
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‘We all have a part to play’: Jacinda Ardern urges New Zealanders to take Covid vaccine

New Zealand witnessed a surge in coronavirus cases on Tuesday as it recorded the highest number of daily infections since the pandemic began.

The country reported 94 cases, of which 87 were from its largest city, Auckland, while seven were recorded in the nearby Waikato district, taking the total number of infections in the current outbreak to 2,099. The new grim milestone eclipsed the previously high of 89 Covid-19 cases in a day, reported about 18 months ago in April 2020.

Overall, since the pandemic began, there have been 4,794 cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand. The country has seen just 28 Covid-19 deaths.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern blamed rule-breakers for the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

“The rules matter for everyone and the task of testing if you are symptomatic applies to everyone,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We need everyone who can be, to be vaccinated... we all have a part to play.”

Ms Ardern acknowledged that the rise in daily infections was “incredibly hard” on people but reminded people that they were not “powerless” as they could bring down the numbers by getting inoculated.

New Zealand had largely eliminated Covid-19 last year and had remained virus-free for months. It reported its first case since February on 17 August, prompting a strict lockdown. But there have been more than 2,000 cases, including a community spread, since then.

The country has contained the latest outbreak through its tougher border controls and strict lockdowns, along with aggressive contact-tracing.

But health officials have not been able to trace back more than half the cases recorded on Tuesday to existing infections, indicating undetected spread in the community.

Till 10am on Tuesday, “41 of these cases are linked — 26 of which are household contacts — and 53 remain unlinked, with investigations continuing to help determine their connection to the outbreak”, the health ministry said in a statement.

Shaun Hendy, an epidemiologist, said the country’s tracing ability was already approaching its limits. “We’re seeing more and more unlinked cases, which is telling us that the virus is well ahead of our contact tracers at the moment,” he told The Guardian.

“One of the big concerns is that our track, trace and isolate [strategy] will stop making an impact, and we’ll see that virus really strip ahead of our vaccination program,” he added. “Your response actually gets worse as case numbers grow. You’re giving the virus an extra edge, once the outbreak gets large. In that case, the risk of it basically beating our vaccine rollout is quite high.”

The latest surge in cases came as New Zealand embarked on an all-out effort to vaccinate its citizens. In fact, a televised “vaxathon” festival on Saturday saw a record 2.5 per cent of New Zealand’s 5 million population getting a Covid-19 vaccine shot.

So far, about 85 per cent of the country’s eligible population has received a single dose of the vaccine, while 67 per cent have received both shots.

Meanwhile, Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director-general of health, said there were plans to offer three vaccine doses for immunocompromised individuals, reported the NZ Herald. But he added that this would be different from a booster dose, which would be available for the rest of the public.

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