New Zealand recorded 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, as the current community outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to grow, bringing infections associated with the outbreak to 72, with 6 in the capital Wellington, health officials said.
Of the 21 new cases, 20 are in Auckland, the largest city, and one is in Wellington traced to an Air NZ flight from Auckland. Five people were in hospital, but no one was an intensive care unit.
The Pacific nation of 5.1 million was ordered into a strict lockdown by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Aug. 17 after one case was detected in Auckland. The lockdown has since been extended until midnight on Tuesday as the outbreak has widened beyond the two key cities.
All cases have now been linked to the initial Delta case reported on Tuesday—a tradesman. That case has been genomically traced to the outbreak in Sydney, Australia. But authorities have said there is still a missing link in transmission from the 58-year-old New Zealand national who returned from Sydney on a flight on Aug. 7 and was hospitalised on Aug. 16.
The returnee infected another 20-year-old tradesman and two women, all who were living with him. The women, sisters, worked as a nurse at Auckland Hospital and a teacher at Avondale College.
High school teachers, college students, nurses, and other health care workers have since tested positive for the virus. Some had also been at work while infectious.
COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has said that the government is sticking with its “elimination” strategy in facing the Delta variant, and that increasing vaccinations will be one of the ways to beat the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, in countries with much higher vaccination rates, studies performed independent of the vaccine manufacturers have suggested waning effectiveness of vaccines like Pfizer—which was designed using the original Wuhan strain—against the Delta variant, with efficacy plummeting to 42 percent, according to some U.S. researchers—meaning that they found for the Pfizer vaccinated, they had a 42 percent reduced chance of contracting the Delta variant of COVID-19.
Pfizer also reported on the waning efficacy, saying it’s vaccine would declined from 95 percent efficacy to 84 percent efficacy over six months. This study was completed before the global increase in the Delta variant. Another later study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Pfizer’s vaccines were 88 percent effective against the Delta variant.
Taking together evidence from recent studies of mRNA vaccines, which also include data on Moderna’s vaccine, Eric Topol, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said that mRNA vaccines are seeing 50 to 60 percent effectiveness against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant.
Hipkins said that about a million people have been fully vaccinated in New Zealand, after more than 50,000 doses of the vaccine were administered on Saturday.
Until the current outbreak, however, New Zealand’s vaccination pace was the slowest among the wealthy nations of the OECD grouping, with only a fifth of the population fully vaccinated.
Hipkins revealed in May that New Zealand’s vaccination program covering two years will cost tax payers $1.4 billion (US$960,000), with nearly $1 billion (US$680,000) going directly to the cost of the vaccines and the cold storage equipment needed to deliver them.
The country has recorded just 2,660 confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and 26 related deaths, according to the health ministry.
The Epoch Times contributed to this report.