Three quarters of New Zealanders aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as the country eyes 90 per cent vaccination targets to see the end of “large-scale, blanket lockdowns”.
In an update this afternoon, the country’s Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said two milestones were reached yesterday including 75 per cent of eligible New Zealanders being fully vaccinated, or 3,159,301 people.
“We expect 80 per cent or so to be in that situation next week,” he said. “Auckland has already achieved 80 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.”
The first dose rate for those aged 12 and over in New Zealand is 88 per cent.
There were 162 new COVID-19 cases reported today. Of those, 156 are in Auckland, five cases in Waikato and one in Northland. A further four cases were identified in recent returnees in managed isolation.
Dr Bloomfield said 53 people are in hospital with COVID-19 and three of those patients are in ICU or a high dependency unit.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the goal is to reach 90 per cent vaccination levels for the eligible population before moving to the new COVID-19 protection framework.
“Where everything from gatherings to hospitality comes back on stream, and where we remove large-scale, blanket lockdowns,” she said.
She said in the meantime, Dr Bloomfield had recommended restrictions in Waikato move to step two of alert level three from tomorrow, November 2, triggering the reopening of retail and public facilities such as museums, and outdoor gatherings for 25 people, removing a cap of two households.
Ms Ardern said Auckland was fewer than 5000 first doses away from “cracking” the 90 per cent goal and cabinet had decided “in principle” to move Auckland to the same restriction level as Waikato next week, on November 9.
“For those concerned that we have not eased immediately, our approach is to take a steady and conscious change in our restriction. We have only recently returned students into senior school,” she said.
“For those who have concerns about any easing, here I would say that because of high vaccination rates in Auckland, we can move forward with greater confidence, and we will continue to have very strong and clear public health guidance on how businesses that are eligible to reopen do so.
“These decisions are carefully balanced and allow us to release some of the pressure and fatigue that we know exists in Auckland while we continue to vaccinate and prepare for the new framework where much more certainty will exist for everyone.”
The Prime Minister first announced the border closure on March 20, 2020 to all non-citizens and nonresidents. Even Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family needed to apply for an exemption to travel and to quarantine at a hotel for 14 days on arrival at a cost of more than $3000.
NSW is expected to be first cab off the rank and travellers will be able to trial a 7-day home quarantine option. Victoria is also in talks to reopen international travel.
The international border ban is currently in place until December 17 but that will now be lifted a month earlier than previously planned.
But with states including Western Australia proposing to keep even state borders shut, the decision means Australians are likely to be able to fly to Paris before they can travel to Perth.
It’s a move that is expected to trigger a dramatic increase of Qantas flights to and from Australia before Christmas and it could hold the key to helping thousands of stranded Australians get home to their families over the summer holidays.
Even the federal budget forecast that borders would remain largely closed until July, 2022. The Prime Minister has credited the international border ban with saving thousands of lives.
“It saved over 30,000 lives in Australia,’’ he said this week in Washington.
“We also took action to save livelihoods. And our economy has come back strongly, even with the restrictions we have in place now. As they lift, then we will see our economy come back strongly. There’s nothing wrong with our economy. The only thing that’s holding back is obviously restrictions that are helping save lives.”
But with NSW and Victoria now on track to hit 80 per cent double doses within weeks, Australia can open up much faster and talks are underway between the Prime Minister and premiers on how to achieve that as soon as possible.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said this week that the hotel quarantine system was an idea that was “past its use by date” as the state plans to embrace a 7-day home quarantine pilot program.
“If you’re fully vaccinated with a vaccine our authorities deem to be effective and safe, you’ll be able to quarantine at home. We’re going through the pilot as we speak. But the hotel quarantine system for returning Australians is past its use by date. If you’re fully vaccinated, you should be able to quarantine at home,’’ she told ABC Breakfast on Tuesday morning.
“I would be more than happy to welcome home Australians, fully vaccinated Australians will be able to quarantine at home in New South Wales. And obviously every other state premier will have their decisions around what they’ll do. We make sure they get safely on a flight back to their home state. What happens after that is a matter for their state premier.”
Flights from India to Australia are likely to resume within ‘several’ weeks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated.
The update comes after travel between the two nations was suspended until May 15 due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis erupting in India.
While Mr Morrison has offered some hope to Australian’s stranded in India, many of the flights will come into a special COVID resilience facility in the NT when travel resumes.
“We’ll be restarting those flights in several weeks’ time,” he said.
Mr Morrison confirmed Australia has now vaccinated two million people.
India Covid-19 number could be far higher than indicated
India recorded 360,960 new cases and another 3293 deaths in the past 24 hours – a new daily world record.
India has reported more than 17.6 million cases and 201,187 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
But the real number, experts fear, could be up to 30 times higher — meaning more than half a billion cases.
Health workers and scientists in India have long warned COVID-19 infections and related deaths are significantly underreported for several reasons, including poor infrastructure, human error, and low testing levels.
Some things have changed since then — testing has greatly increased in the wake of the first wave, for instance.
But still, the true extent of the second wave now ravaging India is likely much worse than official numbers suggest.
“It’s widely known that both the case numbers and the mortality figures are undercounts, they always have been,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi.
“Last year we estimated that only one in about 30 infections were being caught by testing, so the reported cases are a serious underestimate of true infections,” he said.
“This time, the mortality figures are probably serious underestimates, and what we’re seeing on the ground is many more deaths, than what has been officially reported.”
CNN has reached out to the country’s health ministry for comment about the claims of underreporting.
As the first wave began to ebb in September last year, the government pointed to its low death rate as a sign of its success in handling the outbreak, and to support its decision to lift some restrictions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated the low figures as boosting “the confidence of people,” and predicted “the entire country will emerge victorious in the battle against COVID-19,” according to a press release in August.
That battle is still ongoing. The country’s daily death toll is projected to continue climbing until mid-May, according to prediction models from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations.
The death toll could peak at more than 13,000 a day — more than four times the current daily death toll, the predictions show.
“I don’t think any family has been spared a COVID death,” said Laxminarayan. “There’s a missing person in every family that I can think of.”
India’s testing capacity has increased dramatically since the first wave. Around this time last year, the country was testing fewer than half a million people per day — now, “they are doing close to 2 million tests a day,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist for the World Health Organisation (WHO).
But “that’s still not sufficient because the national average positivity rate is about 15 per cent — in some cities like Delhi it’s up to 30 per cent or higher,” she said on Monday.
“That means there are lots of people out there who are infected and not being detected just because of the capacity of testing … we will know only later how many was really the number of people infected.”
There are a few reasons for the insufficient testing, according to Bhramar Mukherjee, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
The most obvious is that asymptomatic patients — also called “silent infections” — may simply never know they were infected, and so never get tested.
There are also different case-reporting structures across different cities and states, and testing may be less accessible in rural areas.
Poorer residents might not be able to afford the time off work to get tested, or to travel to a test centre.
“All countries to some extent have faced this problem of accurately classifying COVID-related deaths, but I think in India the problem is quite acute,” said Mukherjee.
But serology surveys, which test for antibodies in the immune system to indicate if someone has been exposed to the virus, give scientists a better measure of how many people may be infected in reality.
Previous national surveys showed the number of such people is “at least 20 to 30 times higher than what had been reported,” said WHO’s Swaminathan.
When applied to the latest reported figures as of Tuesday, that estimate could raise India’s total to more than 529 million cases.
Even before the pandemic, India was undercounting its dead.
The country’s underfunded public health infrastructure means that even in normal times, only 86 per cent of deaths nationwide are registered in government systems.
And only 22 per cent of all registered fatalities are given an official cause of death, certified by a doctor, according to community medicine specialist Dr Hemant Shewade.
The majority of people in India die at home or other places, not in a hospital, so doctors usually are not present to assign a cause of death — a problem that has only deepened in the second wave, with hospitals out of space.
With nowhere to go, COVID patients are now increasingly dying at home, in idling ambulances, in waiting rooms and outside overwhelmed clinics.
There are logistical problems too, like missing information in the national database or human error. And these issues are even more pronounced in rural areas.
The director of the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research, a body within the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said in a 2020 report in TheLancet journal that it was difficult to ensure individual states followed the guidelines to capture all confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths.
“As per the existing law, NCDIR is not required to get data about suspected or probable deaths from states so I can’t say whether deaths are being certified,” he said.
As of Tuesday, India has reported nearly 198,000 coronavirus deaths.
However, Mukherjee estimates COVID fatalities could be underreported by a factor of between two and five — meaning the real death toll could be close to 990,000.
The number of mass funerals, cremations and bodies piling up have cast doubt on the official reported deaths in numerous cities these past few weeks. The discrepancies could partially be due to patients dying before they are tested, or having non-COVID factors listed as their cause of death, experts say.
India COVID-19 crisis overwhelms nation with record infection numbers
“The real challenge with capturing COVID deaths is because the cause of death is often assigned a comorbidity like kidney disease or heart disease,” said Mukherjee.
“That’s why many countries are now doing excess death calculations, excess mortality calculations, in the UK and United States.”
These discrepancies are stark for those on the ground, as thousands die across the country every day.
“In Delhi, at least 3000 people went to funerals in the last week,” said Max Rodenbeck, South Asia Bureau Chief for The Economist, on Monday.
“There is one crematorium in Delhi, which is a big land in the park, and (it is) building 100 new funeral pyres … This, is again, in India’s biggest city with the most attention. What happens beyond Delhi is pretty awful.”
Virus spreads across states
The underreporting could be partly why India was largely caught off guard by the second wave, said Mukherjee from the University of Michigan.
“If we had more accurate data in terms of cases, infections, as well as deaths, then of course, we’ll be much more prepared and also anticipate the healthcare resource needs,” she said.
“(Faulty data) does not really change the truth. It only makes it worse for policymakers to anticipate the needs.”
The second wave, which began in mid-March, hit the capital New Delhi hard, as well as the western state of Maharashtra.
The union territory of Delhi, where New Delhi is located, was placed under lockdown on April 19. That lockdown has since been extended until May 3.
But cases are on the rise in other states, prompting some authorities to impose new restrictions in an attempt to avoid the kind of calamity seen in the capital.
The southern Karnataka state is imposing a 9pm curfew for the next two weeks starting Tuesday, with only essential services allowed between 6am to 10am, according to CNN affiliate News 18.
The northern state of Punjab announced similar measures on Monday, including a night curfew and a weekend lockdown.
“Urge you all to stay at home and step out only if absolutely necessary,” tweeted the state’s chief minister on Monday.
Meanwhile, states and local authorities are desperately waiting for aid to arrive from the central government and overseas.
The US, UK, France, Germany, and Pakistan are among the countries that have stepped in to offer assistance and send much-needed medical equipment including ventilators and oxygen.
The first shipments of aid from the United Kingdom arrived in India on Tuesday, according to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
“No one is safe until we are all safe,” he tweeted, with pictures of the aid arriving.
Australia Post’s submission to the same Senate inquiry clearly indicates it doesn’t resile from the position she stood aside.
On 22 October 2020, Ms Holgate agreed to stand aside from the role of group chief executive officer & managing director of Australia Post pending the outcome of an investigation by the shareholder departments and any further actions taken by Australia Post. On 2 November 2020, Ms Holgate resigned with immediate effect and advised that she was not seeking any financial compensation from Australia Post.
The submission also quotes the Maddocks review of the incident, which it said contradicts Holgate by finding that:
The “former Chair’s position is that he did not” approve the provision of the watches to the watch recipients
There was “contradictory evidence as to whether the former Group CEO & Managing Director informed the former Chair that it was her intention to purchase the Cartier watches”.
Australia Post said it considers current chair, Lucio Di Bartolomeo’s, evidence to the Senate “to be accurate” but that is after “incorporating the subsequent clarification provided on 21 December 2020”.
Former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has lodged an explosive submission to the Senate inquiry into her sacking for the decision to award executives Cartier watches as bonuses.
“It is almost five months since the events of October 22nd, 2020, when, for no justified reason, I was humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post Chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” the submission begins.
”Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.”
Holgate said she offered to resign, but alleged Australia Post then leaked the letter to the media, before sending a counter-offer which is “itself confirmation that no agreement had been reached”.
Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.
Holgate accused Di Bartolomeo of “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November, including about his knowledge of a BCG report into the incident.
Travel agents and hotel operators have welcomed details of the two way travel bubble with New Zealand, but have warned “there will be very little real benefit” for the sector in the short term.
This is because most of the initial travellers from 19 April are expected to be low-spending tourists visiting family and friends, as Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive, Margy Osmond, told the Guardian.
Accommodation Association of Australia has backed that prediction up, with its chief executive Dean Long reigniting calls for post-jobkeeper wage support for CBD hotels in Melbourne and Sydney that are still reeling from a drop off in international tourism and business travel.
The Association said Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days and that Melbourne is similarly decimated.
The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels. With the end of jobkeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible. There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said many of his members were already seeing “increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family”.
It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.” However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4bn still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.
PNG man dies of Covid in Queensland hospital
Queensland Health has confirmed a 77-year-old Papua New Guinea/UK man died at Redcliffe hospital yesterday from complications due to Covid-19.
It says in a statement:
He was a dual Papua New Guinea/UK national who was transported by Medivac from PNG to Queensland on 28 March, as his condition was worsening.
Since that day, he has been in ICU at Redcliffe hospital and unfortunately passed away yesterday.
Queensland Health offers its sincere condolences to his family during this time.
Queensland recorded no new cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours.
Here is a market’s update courtesy of AAP.
Technology and travel stocks have helped the Australian share market post a solid start to the holiday shortened week.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed up 57.2 points, or 0.84%, to 6885.9 on Tuesday, the first trading session after the Easter break.
The All Ordinaries closed 69.7 points, or 0.99% higher, at 7133.90.
Technology shares led the broad-based gains, while travel-focused stocks also jumped on news of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian dollar was buying 76.55 US cents at 1615 AEST, sharply higher from 75.47 US cents at last Thursday’s close.
Rounding out the press conference, Morrison returns to the vaccine rollout, saying:
Australia is not experiencing the dire, fatal consequences so many other countries are experiencing, and neither is New Zealand whose vaccination program is, I would say, at a lower level than Australia’s is now.It is not a criticism, it is just that they do not have access to domestic vaccine production.
Morrison is asked if he’d support a minimum global tax rate, as proposed by US treasury secretary Janet Yellen.
He doesn’t answer directly, but says “Australia’s overall [corporate tax] system is proving to be incredibly competitive and a lot more competitive” than some analysis suggests.
Question: Given the hold ups [with the CSL vaccines], how many people would you expect to be vaccinated by the end of April?
A couple of things – there is no hold up. The release of vaccines has always been based on them completing those processes, so the fact that they actually have to get approved by the relevant authorities and do the batch testing, is not a hold up, it is a necessary part of the process to guarantee Australian safety, so to describe it as a hold up would be incorrect.
On not meeting the four million target, he says:
The simple explanation of that is three million – 3.1m vaccines – that never came to Australia. That is the reason. In early January, we anticipated we would have the 3.1m vaccines. Those vaccines were not supplied to Australia, and that explains the difference between the numbers you are referring to, and we made that very clear back in February.
Morrison says a lack of supply is the reason why chemists are not more involved in the rollout, though he says it was never the plan that they would be “involved in vaccination program at this point”.
So there has been no slippage, there has been no delay, and the medical advice is it is not the time for pharmacists be involved at this point. There has always been a plan to involve them at the later point with a more general population, and that is still the plan.
Morrison is asked about the possibility of international travel to other countries beyond New Zealand.
“I can’t really speculate on it. I don’t think that’s fair,” he says.
At this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that point.
Morrison says he can’t outline what’s next as far as travel bubbles go.
“We have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea, and countries like this, but at this stage we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point,” he says.
Morrison expects travel to Australia to increase with the travel bubble because New Zealanders will not have to submit to quarantine when they return.
Asked what he’d say to Australians disappointed with the speed of the rollout, Morrison says:
And it is true that at this stage of our rollout, it is actually better than where Germany was, better than where New Zealand was, better than where South Korea and Japan was, and so I think there will be some important context in the weeks ahead as we see the significant ramp up of the distribution network.
Morrison says “the challenges Australia have had has been a supply problem”, “pure and simple”.
There were three million doses that never arrived, he adds.
Morrison is asked for some vaccination data. He says:
The figures I have of the 5 April is 854,983. Of that, there are some 280,943 that have been done through the GP clinics and the GP respiratory clinics and other federal agencies.
That is in addition to those that have been done through age and disability facilities, which is around the 112,830.
Morrison supports data being provided more regularly, he says, and will discuss that with state and territory leaders at national cabinet.