New cases of COVID-19 in the small Waikato settlements of Kāwhia and Karāpiro are "concerning but not surprising", according to one expert who expects an extension of the alert level 3 border in the region is needed.
The two cases were announced on Wednesday alongside seven others in Waikato, taking the region's total for this outbreak to 18. It was also revealed that a patient at Waikato Hospital last Friday has tested positive for COVID-19, leading to staff being stood down. Following revelations of cases in Raglan and Hamilton on Sunday, parts of Waikato were placed into alert level 3.
However, that boundary doesn't go as far south as Kāwhia and Karāpiro. Asked if they could be moved into lockdown, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday said it wouldn't happen "immediately" but was under review.
"It is quite a contained community from what I gather from the people who've been up there doing that work and there's a good degree of cooperation and compliance there," he said.
Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, an immunologist with the University of Otago, says the new cases outside the boundary "are concerning but not surprising".
"Delta has continued its transmission through communities and across borders at a time where vaccination rates (although improving) are still low, and with restrictions already being eased," she said.
"The new COVID-19 case being reported in Waikato’s emergency department is not unexpected. It is critical that people who need help at our hospitals, still receive the essential help and care they need at the time, with hospital protocols in place designed to prevent further spread.
"A further extension of the alert level 3 border will be likely needed to keep the new Waikato cases contained and limit further spread."
Hipkins said it is possible the boundary could be extended, but a key question would be where it goes to.
Dr Sika-Paotonua said the potential impact of cases rising on vulnerable communities was serious.
"Pacific COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts continue to progress with more Pacific-targeted, tailored Pacific and community-driven activities and events being organised together with Pacific providers to support communities get vaccinated."
She noted the Government's announcement of a 'National Day of Action' on October 16 to drive up vaccination rates, with MPs, businesses, media and community groups asked to play a role.
"We need you to be talking to them about the reasons you've been vaccinated, we need you to make sure they are getting reliable, honest information about the vaccine," Hipkins said. "And we need you to help us to get the unvaccinated, vaccinated."
Dr Nitasha Rimar, a Northland endocrinologist and physician, said proactively tightening boundaries and "universally masking our entire population in all indoor settings as we continue to boost our vaccination numbers" would help in limiting spread.
"Proactively, rather than reactively, altering our approach will restrict the virus from flourishing in our vulnerable communities."
Dr Rimar said the need for universal masking was underscored by the fact vaccinated people can still transmit the virus and be infected themselves, even though there is a lesser chance.
"Public education is going to be absolutely vital to combatting misinformation and preventing unnecessary loss of life. Perhaps consideration for integrating nationally-known figures, such as sports celebrities or community leaders at daily press conferences, could bolster scientific fact-based knowledge sharing."
There were 39 community cases announced on Wednesday as well as the death of a man in Middlemore Hospital with COVID-19. He was 50 with underlying health conditions and had been in ICU for 40 days.