New Zealand has hit its highest daily case number since the pandemic began, with 94 new Covid-19 infections announced on Tuesday.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the rise in Covid cases was “incredibly hard,” and urged people to get vaccinated and to continue following the rules.
“We’re not powerless, we do have the ability to help keep cases as low as we can,” she said.
Health officials have so far been unable to link more than half of the cases announced on Tuesday to existing infections. The concerning rise in unlinked cases could indicate further, undetected spread in the community. Ardern said the outbreak had spread across the city, and there were now cases in 124 Auckland suburbs.
The outbreak is increasingly hitting young people, with 12 people in hospital under the age of 39. The highest number of new cases on Tuesday came from the youngest age groups – those aged under 39 – which also have the lowest vaccination rates.
Ardern said vaccination efforts would increasingly have to focus on young people who “don’t think it is real, or that it affects them yet.” Because New Zealand opted to roll out population-wide vaccination by age band, most of those young people have had far less time to get vaccinated. Those aged 12 and up only became eligible to get a vaccine on 1 September.
Since the Delta strain arrived in New Zealand, it has been ripping through Māori and Pacific communities. Despite making up just 16.5% of the overall population, Māori have made up almost half, or 46% of cases over the last 2 weeks. Of Tuesday’s cases, 39% are Māori and 14% are Pasifika. Toward the beginning of the outbreak it was concentrated in Pacific communities, who made up 60-70% of cases.
Māori affairs minister Peeni Henare urged Māori to get vaccinated. “I say to the Māori people, Covid-19 is on the doorstep of your houses. Do not let it enter,” Henare said. “The best course of protection still remains for us to vaccinate our people.”
The country is racing to increase vaccination numbers as the outbreak grows. As of Tuesday, 83% of the eligible (those aged 12 and up) population have had at least one dose, or 70% of the full population. 65% of the eligible population have been fully vaccinated with both doses, or 55% of the full population.
Vaccination rates among Māori and Pacific communities, particularly young people, were still lagging behind the broader population.
As case numbers rise, so too were the number of people hospitalised with the illness: 38 people were in hospital with Covid-19, and five people were in intensive care.
87 of the cases were in Auckland and 7 were in Waikato. Both regions remain in a level 3 lockdown. The government has signaled it will release plans for those cities’ pathway forward on Friday, including a new pandemic management plan as cases rise.
The Ministry of Health said in a release: “Public health staff are continuing to urge anyone in Auckland to, please, get a test if they have symptoms of Covid-19, regardless of which suburb they live in. There are increased cases across the region, so everyone needs to remain vigilant.”