As the country moves into the new Covid-19 traffic light system today, Health Minister Andrew Little has announced a major funding boost for hospitals to extend intensive care services.
There are 172 new cases of Covid-19 in the Delta community outbreak including 10 in Nelson-Tasman. A further three positive cases were confirmed in Taranaki later in the day.
Ongoing problems with vaccination passports also led to the Health Ministry offering temporary exemptions to 70,000 people.
The three Taranaki cases are all part of the same New Plymouth household and have a known link to an existing case in Rotorua.
Auckland has the most new cases on 142, with others in Northland (two), Waikato (15), Bay of Plenty (one) and Lakes (two).
Little told the Herald he was not expecting case numbers to surge after the country moves into the new pandemic framework but believed new cases will start appearing across the country.
“As the country shifts to the traffic-light system, we need to make sure we can cope with the unexpected,” he said.
“As I have said before, I have asked district health boards to identify ways of increasing intensive-care capacity within six months, such as projects to convert unused wards.”
He said New Zealand has so far been able to avoid hospitals being over-run because of the pandemic as had happened elsewhere.
“Our ICU facilities have remained available for every person needing that level of care, whether they have Covid-19 or something else.
“That remains the situation. We’ve got about a hundred ICU beds in Auckland alone and the ability to surge to 550 ICU-type beds across the country if we need to – far more than we are likely to need in the near future.”
The Government has earmarked $100 million from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to accelerate ICU projects and a further $544m for operational funding, for costs like staffing.
North Shore, Tauranga and Christchurch will be the first hospitals to receive the money, with further projects to be announced.
Little said the Government has also approved $65.1 million for a new six-bed ICU at Waitakere Hospital along with two negative-pressure rooms and a new 30-bed ward.
Waitematā DHB chief executive Dale Bramleysaidthe announcement represented a “historic moment in the evolution of health care for the people of West Auckland”.
“There has been a long-running grass roots campaign by the West Auckland community to have more services based at Waitakere Hospital,” Bramley said.
“It is a great day for West Auckland and it should be celebrated.”
Meanwhile the Health Ministry has emailed 70,000 people who are waiting for the individual assistance needed to obtain their vaccine pass granting them temporary exemptions.
The exemption can be shown to businesses and organisations that require a My Vaccine Pass and will be valid until 11.59pm on December 14, 2021.
“There are around 70,000 requests for assistance, including people who need to add international vaccinations to their New Zealand record, people who need their name changed and people whose records have other errors that need to be corrected,” a ministry spokesman said.
Michael Dreyer, group manager National Digital Services said it was important people are not unfairly disadvantaged under the new Covid Protection Framework.
“The temporary exemption is a pragmatic measure in response to the unprecedented demand our call centres are facing,” Dreyer said.
“We have scaled up our processing team significantly, but it is likely that not every request will be able to be resolved [by the start of the traffic light system].”
He said the fastest and easiest way for people to get their vaccine pass is via mycovidrecord.health.nz, but they can also obtain assistance in getting their passes from participating pharmacies, general practices, hauora and DHB vaccination clinics.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff said it was fantastic that Aucklanders and Auckland businesses will be able to enjoy more freedoms after 107 days in lockdown.
“This lockdown has been long and challenging for Aucklanders who have done it tough to protect the rest of New Zealand from Covid-19 and buy time for people around the country to get vaccinated against the virus,” he said.
“Today we start a new chapter and we do so with the knowledge that the sacrifices we have made over the past three and a half months have protected tens of thousands of people from the virus, ensured our health system was not overwhelmed and potentially saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.”
Goff urged people to keep up with the health guidelines of the red stage by masking up where appropriate, tracking movements and isolating and getting a test if they develop any Covid symptoms.
“This is a day to celebrate and enjoy, but while we have moved to substantially ease restrictions in our Covid response, the pandemic is not over yet, so we have to continue to take the steps we need to keep ourselves safe.”
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