National | Community Transmission

Māori Covid cases rise - race on to vaccinate

The total number of Māori Covid-19 cases has risen by 12 to 116 There are 13 new cases in the Delta outbreak today. The Ministry of Health has also reassigned the ethnicity of three other cases.

There is a total of 996 cases in the Delta outbreak. The number of recovered cases has risen to 460. The number of active cases in MIQ rose by nine to  565 but was still well down from the outbreak peak of 770. This number must drop further to reduce the risk of secondary bounceback infections into the community from MIQ.

Māori, Middlemore, seven suburbs and three sub-clusters

For Māori, the Delta outbreak is emerging as a race between rising cases and low vaccination. Māori are the highest number of cases for the fourth time in the past six days, and 44.7% (55) of 116 cases reported during that period.

The increase in Māori cases in Auckland appears linked to cases that presented at Middlemore Hospital last week. They are also connected to the 10 ‘mystery cases’ and three of 10 subclusters not yet linked to the wider Delta outbreak.

We also know from yesterday that there are two cases in the Mongrel Mob Kingdom Takanini community. Locations of Interest associated with this group are situated around the Massey, Mt Eden, Manurewa, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara, and Māngere suburbs. Concerted symptomatic and asymptomatic testing is underway in these suburbs with between 1,700 and 2,500 tests conducted per day.

The most concerning mystery cases are in three unlinked groups suspected of continuing community transmission. One group has 51 cases. The last case in this group was on September 8, meaning transmission is slowing down. Another of these clusters has 28 cases and is a group of households in Māngere and Manurewa. The last case was September 10. There are several contacts; the ministry expects more cases.

Māori vaccination

Although the overall rate of Māori vaccination remains behind other ethnicities, the rate of vaccination is increasing. As of yesterday, a total of 43.2% of the eligible 12-years-plus Māori population had received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine of which 20.7% are fully vaccinated. The proportion of Māori vaccinations relative to the overall New Zealand figure has increased from a low of 0.52 during late August to 0.63.

Māori remain the largest proportion of unvaccinated people particularly in the 20- to 34-year-old age group. In the district health board areas of Northland, Auckland Metro, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Te Tai Rāwhiti, the Lakes District, Taranaki, Whanganui, Hawke's Bay, Nelson-Marlborough, and the West Coast, vaccinations in this demographic average between 40% and 50% of the national average.

A race between rising Māori cases and vaccination

The next week emerges as a race between the risk of a Delta resurgence within the Māori community and Māori vaccination rates. It is poised on a knife-edge.

This has implications for when the government might take Auckland to Level 3. Anything too soon, even with low case numbers, risks a quick resurgence, particularly in the Māori community.

Delta is likely to have a longer tail than the government thinks. The following graph compares the daily and total cases of the current Delta outbreak to Day 31 with last year’s first wave to Day 50.

The government has done well to bring down the peak number of daily cases of the hyper-infectious Delta variant. However, at 18 days since first bending/flattening the curve we have not yet seen single-digit daily cases.

Last year, in the first wave it took 12 days from bending/flattening the curve to reach the first single-digit day and 19 more days before the country reported zero cases for the first time. We may therefore see more cases for another two to three weeks.

There is also the continuing risk of a secondary bounceback breach from MIQ if active case numbers do not come down significantly.

If the government decides to go to Level Three, then that must be for at least two weeks.

Kia noho haumaru, stay safe.

- Dr Rawiri Taonui.