Michael Baker concerned Delta outbreak 'not really getting any better'

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It's a make or break week for Auckland's Covid outbreak as stubborn case numbers plateau.

Michael Baker said Kiwis need to be constantly aware of the exposure risk at Alert Level 2.

By Rowan Quinn of rnz.co.nz

Experts say the impact of lowering the restrictions to Level 3 will not start to be seen for another day or two - and they could go either way.

There were calls for a major new targeted approach, including door-to-door testing where the virus could be lurking.

After a dip into single digits on Friday, with nine cases, there were 34 more over the weekend - 18 on Sunday and 16 on Saturday.

Epidemiologist, Professor Michael Baker said the persistent numbers, plus the odd case popping up from nowhere, were signs the virus was still transmitting in parts of Auckland.

"The concern I have, is that we are not really getting any better," he said.

It was time for a rethink - an intense, targeted campaign in the areas where Delta was trying to settle in, he said.

That had been happening to an extent, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calling last week for everyone in the suburb of Clover Park to get a test. About a fifth have.

Professor Baker said it must go further - and not left to people to come forward.

Social workers and police should work with health officials to reach marginalised groups - like gangs, he said.

And teams should go door-to-door in areas of concern, checking for symptoms and asking to test people, offering a vaccination at the same time, he said.

"It's really down to that level of intensity of approach if we are really going to stamp out the virus in Auckland at the moment."

University of Auckland public health specialist Collin Tukuitonga supported the approach.

The city was at a turning point, he said.

Getting to zero cases was still a possibility, albeit a remote one, but it was important to keep working hard to contain the outbreak to single digit numbers, he said.

Auckland's district health boards said they were already sending testers door-to-door - including to streets where there had been a number of cases.

Baker was talking about wider, surveillance testing to seek out undetected Covid.

Pacific health group The Fono chief executive Tevita Funaki said they tested people, normally close contacts, in their homes.

"It helps with the anxiety - and their buy-in as well."

Wider door-to-door surveillance was a good idea, he said.

Tukuitonga said the stubborn cases made vaccination even more critical - especially where there were gaps.

Health officials wanted 90 per cent of Aucklanders vaccinated with at least one dose by 4 October.

That was now at 82 per cent overall, but just 57 per cent for Māori Aucklanders and 66 for Pasifika.

"If we don't get those rates up quickly, the outbreak could blow up again and become quite explosive," Tukuitonga said.

Funaki said there had been a huge response to The Fono's mobile vaccination bus, with many church, community groups and employers asking them to show up.

The mobile approach worked well because they could easily get to several places in a day, he said.

Baker said while the rollout continued, it was crucial to keep stamping out the virus, or run the risk of a large outbreak like Melbourne or Sydney with restrictions for weeks or months while the vaccination rate caught up.