Postcode-style restrictions in Auckland need 'serious consideration' - epidemiologist

An Otago University epidemiologist wants the Government to give serious consideration to implementing postcode-style restrictions in Auckland. 

The sharp end of this COVID-19 outbreak is still firmly centred around South Auckland. 

Mt Wellington, Māngere, Manurewa, Favona, Clover Park and Ōtara are "suburbs of concern" and there are three active sub-clusters. 

The Health Ministry says one is made up of two South Auckland households which is made up of 35 cases.

Another is linked to a boarding house with 28 confirmed cases. 

A North Auckland "social network" sub-cluster makes up the third with eight cases. 

Otago University Professor of Public Health, Nick Wilson, says restrictions in certain suburbs makes sense. 

"I think this postcode-style lockdown is definitely worth serious consideration." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they're "open" to the idea. 

"We've been open to considering that all the way through but with clusters we have to date, they have often reached beyond single suburbs." 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield called a localised lockdown "tricky, but it's not off the table completely." 

In the past fortnight, there have been seven  mystery or unlinked cases. These are still being investigated. 

But the Health Ministry refuses to release details like the suburbs they're from or how the infections occurred, citing privacy issues. 

Professor Wilson says the Ministry needs to be more open, saying privacy issues shouldn't be an issue as tens of thousands of people live in suburbs around Auckland. 

"This extra transparency is very important for an informed public debate about maybe parts of Auckland staying at alert level 3 and maybe other parts moving down to alert level 2."

Auckland Councillor Fa'anānā Efeso Collins is sceptical about moving to localised lockdowns. 

"Look I think there's a real danger of people feeling stigmatised, so I think we've got to hold that up and be aware of that."

He says lots of people in South Auckland have been commenting on social media about how busy beaches in Mission Bay and Devonport have been where people don't appear to be social distancing, while the south is on the "frontline" of the outbreak and people are doing all they can to be safe. 

Manukau ward councillor Alf Filipania also feels localised restrictions could stigmatise communities. He told Newshub he wouldn't want to see suburbs like Mangere or Otara treated like "leper colonies". 

Professor Wilson's not suggesting cutting off South Auckland or stopping essential workers from travelling, but continuing restrictions like gatherings at hospitality venues. 

He said such an initiative would have to include supporting locals both economically and socially. 

Efeso Collins said such incentives may help if localised lockdowns were rolled out. 

"If the Government just off the top of my head said we'll go halves on your rent this week, we'll pay half of your food bill this week, then I think a lot of our families would consider it." 

But he says it's about engagement - as many in south Auckland already feel excluded in this COVID crisis.  

Meanwhile, Tauranga could be facing its own Delta dilemma. 

Wastewater tests from six days ago have revealed a positive result, prompting Dr Bloomfield to ask anyone in the Tauranga Mount Maunganui area to get a test if they have symptoms. 

The positive result could just be virus fragments - remnants of an old case. Or it could be an acute infection. Follow up wastewater tests will be carried out across the region in the coming days.