Covid-free parts of New Zealand are on standby as they await the arrival of the Delta Covid-19 strain in their community, with its spread seeming inevitable.
News of two cases in Christchurch just brought the inevitable closer for places like the West Coast of the South Island, where Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said the Delta strain was “always coming, it was just a matter of when”.
Now Westland – like all of New Zealand – is in a race to increase vaccination numbers so to minimise the impact of the virus’s eventual arrival. “It is rather like planning for an alpine fault movement,” Smith said.
An unvaccinated person who had travelled from Auckland, where Covid is spreading through the community, and a close contact both tested positive for the virus in Christchurch, it was announced on Thursday. Health officials said the pair had not been good users of the Covid tracer app and one of the people had been unwell for two weeks.
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Ōtago University public health Professor Nick Wilson said this did not mean it was a done deal and the virus could still be contained, at least until vaccination numbers reached a level that meant the health system would not be swamped.
Taiwan and the Australian states of Queensland and Tasmania were all examples of success stories of either tackling the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus, or simply keeping it out, Wilson said.
Wellington too had Delta in the community and dodged the bullet. Seventeen cases in the capital in August were tied to the still ongoing Auckland outbreak, but that is where Wellington numbers stopped. Northland and Coromandel also managed to have the virus and keep it in check.
Wilson said the aim had to be to keep the virus contained until vaccination numbers reached higher levels, and preferably with the vaccine approved for five-to-11 years olds.
“We really should be trying much harder to stop it spreading,” Wilson said, adding the Government should be doing more to protect the borders between areas of community transmission and those without.
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said the city was “only a truck driver or plane flight away” from a return of Covid-19.
“The most important thing we can all do is get vaccinated and Wellingtonians are doing a fantastic job in getting vaccinated,” he said.
Wellington City councillor Jill Day, chair of the social, cultural and economic Committee, said it was still possible to keep the virus out of Wellington, at least until vaccination numbers increased.
“It’s a race against the clock and the virus. We must all scan, wear masks and socially distance,” she said.
She encouraged people in the Wellington region to do their bit. “This is the time to have those difficult conversations with family and friends who are worried about getting the vaccine,” she said. “We are all in this together.”
Ant Simon, of Unichem Simon’s Pharmacy in the northern Wellington suburb of Tawa, said he believed it would be days or weeks until Wellington got its first case and the virus would be established in the capital by the end of November.
New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said it had been clear “for quite some time” that the latest outbreak was coming to Taranaki.
“Our focus has been preparing for it and vaccinating.” The region has some way to go to have 90 per cent of the eligible population double-vaccinated.
Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said it was “inevitable” the virus would come to the South Island and Dunedin.
”We’re in a race between the virus and the vaccine, one that we all wish we’d had a better head start on, but this is where we find ourselves,” Hawkins said.