COVID-19: Auckland move back to level 4 'very unlikely' despite warning of 'hospitalisations and deaths around Christmas'

A senior Government minister says a move back to level 4 in Auckland is "very unlikely", as it would risk breaking the "social contract" with the city's residents.

After managing to crush the daily infection figure to single digits earlier this week, Wednesday brought a shock 45 new cases, with another 19 reported on Thursday. Coming a week after the city moved from level 4 to 3 - and the return to work of thousands of people - epidemiologists and other experts are concerned.

"It could be that we're starting to see the increase in cases that could occur under alert level 3," Te Pūnaha Matatini disease modeller Shaun Hendy said on Thursday. 

Chief Science Advisor Dame Juliet Gerrard shared a graph on Twitter comparing our outbreak to those in New South Wales and Victoria, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles pointing out if our case numbers follow the trends seen in Australia, "we'll be high levels of hospitalisations and deaths around Christmas-time".

But Labour MP David Parker told The AM Show on Friday going back to level 4 was "very unlikely". 

"You've got to maintain a social contract to keep people with you." 

In case that phrase isn't familiar, Oxford Dictionary defines the social contract as "an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection".

When it breaks, you get violent scenes like have played out in Melbourne recently

"I know we're all over COVID, we know that we've won so far - we're on course to be one of the winning countries in the world. As our vaccination rates go up we'll be able to sustain really low rates of infection and effects going forward. 

"But of course in the meantime, this Delta variant is very, very hard to stamp out. We are stamping it out and controlling it at the moment, but we haven't eliminated it completely. So we've got to keep going." 

He said so far 83 percent of eligible Aucklanders have had a first vaccine dose, ahead of the national average of 78 percent. Just  under half of eligible Aucklanders have had their second dose - well below the 90 percent-plus required before the Government will consider relying on vaccination coverage to protect people, rather than lockdowns. There's also no sign yet when the hard borders between Auckland  and the rest of the country will lift. 

"The Prime Minister's already said we're on a course towards opening up, but it's very difficult to put an actual date on it yet. The numbers are up and down and our vaccination rates are not  high enough yet to substitute vaccination for that border."

David Parker.
David Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

National MP Simon Bridges, appearing with Parker on The AM Show, said the Government needs to set some tangible targets and time frames "so that Aucklanders and New Zealanders can meet them, but also so we can hold the Government to account for what they're delivering".

"The Government has the best information. Aucklanders are frustrated - what we want to see is a plan, some semblance of a plan and what it's about. Is it about vaccination rates? Or is it about COVID rates in the community? … They've been too slow on the vaccination rate. Let's see the plan. National's got one - we're trying to gee the Government up, spur it along. Let's see Labour's." 

"In respect of a plan for what we do next, we've already got out there the MIQ system will change at the start of next year," said Parker. "We've got a trial going on in October for people to come through a different system. 

"But in the meantime it's all about vaccination, and on that I think there's a cross-parliamentary agreement and a societal agreement - including all of the epidemiologists - we just need to get the vax rate up."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said she wouldn't set a hard vaccine target, except for "as many as possible". 

"The reason we've not given a specific number is because even if you say 'we want 80 percent', if you have only 60 percent in one part of the country, people will die in that part of the country. All of us have a role to play in getting our rates as high as possible," she told The AM Show in September. 

"My commitment is I do not intend to use lockdowns in the long-term. No one does, because we know the impact that it has. So there is a plan and a way out."