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Lockdown day 1: The region hunkers down

The streets in Carterton [above] and Featherston [below] went suddenly quiet. PHOTOS/GRACE PRIOR AND TOM TAYLOR

Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

New Zealand was plunged back into a level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Tuesday, for the second time since the covid-19 pandemic began.

The news came after a community case was discovered in Auckland, in a person who had also travelled to Coromandel.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Wednesday that the community case was linked to cases in Australia.

In a shift from last year’s alert level 4, the government announced it would be mandatory for those aged 12 or over to wear a mask in public. This included supermarkets, service stations, pharmacies and medical facilities.

“Simply put, if you’re in a place that is allowed to be open to provide services to the people, or transport, wear a mask,” Ardern said.

“We are anticipating more cases.”

Epidemiologist Roger Morris, based in Masterton, supported the lockdown, saying it was possible the Delta variant of the virus would reach Wairarapa.

“Because we’re only partway through the vaccination programme … having a short, sharp lockdown is a good step to reducing the likelihood of a Sydney-style lockdown,” he said.

“The Delta variant is at least twice as infectious than the variant we saw in the early stage of last year’s lockdown.

“Therefore we need to try and stop it as quickly as possible.”

The main difference this year, aside from the virus variant, was the mandation of masks in public places.

“In the first level 4 lockdown, at that stage there were still questions that weren’t fully resolved around masks.”

Research had since shown that wearing masks would protect both the wearer and those around them, though this was “a bit virus-dependent”.

Morris noted Wairarapa’s community case last year that had come from someone who attended a concert in Auckland, and said a similar risk applied this time.

“It’s possible we’ll get infection here. It’s a low probability, but it’s possible,” he said.

“It’s not a matter of spreading in five steps here. It’s more likely someone who’s been in Auckland and then gets on a plane and comes down here.”

He described the vaccination programme as “key” to reducing the likelihood of an outbreak, and the possibility of further lockdowns.

“It’s essential that we get vaccination levels high.

“As we get the levels of vaccination higher and higher, then need for this intensity of lockdown reduces.

“A single dose also gives you quite good protection against getting infected, but the second dose boosts that to a very good level.”

Although the Delta variant was more likely to have a few more “breakthrough” cases than the earlier strain of the virus, so far evidence indicated that the Pfizer vaccine used in New Zealand was effective against the new variant, Morris said.

“We chose well in our vaccine.”

Wairarapa Hospital building, Te Ore Ore Road, Masterton. PHOTO/FILE
Wairarapa Hospital. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa District Health Board spokeswoman Anna Cardno said while the move to level 4 meant some delay to the region’s vaccination rollout, the clinics reopened yesteroday, as per government guidelines.

“Thursday was intended as a closed for business day due to the nurses’ and midwives’ strike, so no bookings have been taken and no staff are rostered, however, we will now have capacity to vaccinate on Thursday at the Departmental Building clinic in Masterton and are working hard to make that happen,” Cardno said.

“We are emphasising the need for all our essential workers to hurry to vaccinate, if they have not already. Any unvaccinated Group 2 people, and staff of shops that are open under level 4 that may not yet have met the age band, for example, should take the opportunity to vaccinate as soon as they can.”

Anyone with flu-like symptoms, or anyone that had been in a location of interest over the weekend should be tested, regardless of symptoms.

“In Wairarapa, our medical practices are managing testing, and we will look to escalate to a testing station as we have done previously if demand requires it,” Cardno said.

Wairarapa Hospital had a strict visitor restriction, with restrictions also applying at aged residential care facilities.

“As we have heard, we can expect more community cases. Potentially even locally. The really important thing is for everyone to stay home,” she said.

“If you are not working in an essential service, stay home, stay in your bubble, and use the technology platforms we have available to stay connected to people. Wear a mask at all times you are outside your home.

“Lockdown can cause anxiety and stress, so it is great to keep a safe contactless connection with the people you know and love. There are helplines available and you can find them on the DHB website, Unite Against Covid platforms and through the Ministry of Health.”

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