New Zealand scrambles as Delta moves south

·2-min read

New Zealand's Delta outbreak has spread south into the poorly vaccinated Taranaki region, where six new cases of the virus have been identified.

Health officials on Friday reported 201 COVID-19 infections in the latest reporting period, pushing New Zealand to record highs for active cases and hospitalisations.

The new Taranaki cases - a household of three adults and three children - were found in the North Island town of Stratford.

Taranaki medical officer Jonathan Jarman said the group did not use contact tracing and were reluctant to get tested.

"One of the people involved with this cluster said it was the sickest they'd ever been and I think then the penny dropped and they agreed to testing," Dr Jarman told Radio NZ.

"All of Stratford should consider itself as a location of interest and if anyone has symptoms they need to get a test, we need to get on top of this as quickly as possible."

The outbreak may have already spread further across North Island, with wastewater testing showing signs of COVID-19 in the lake resort town of Taupo.

Similar testing previously showed the virus was present in Stratford, but officials were unable to identify the infected individuals until Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the government reserved the right to place the region in lockdown if contact tracing showed further spread.

"At this time our advice is not to do that ... we know how the virus came to be (in Stratford) and we know it is currently confined to one family and one household," he said.

Five of the Stratford cases were unvaccinated.

They are likely to have been infectious in the community for more than a week, which could spell trouble given low vaccination rates in the dairy farming region.

While 80 per cent of New Zealanders aged over 12 are fully vaccinated, the number drops to 73 per cent in Taranaki - including just 53 per cent of Maori.

Case numbers are currently as high as they have ever been in New Zealand, with 3242 active infections and a seven-day daily case average of 167.

There are 85 Kiwis in hospital, with 11 in intensive care.

Of the cases reported on Friday, 181 were in Auckland, 15 in the Waikato and four in Northland.

Most of those cases are isolating at home, as the country's quarantine regime has been overwhelmed by the surging caseload.

Officials have ended efforts to trace people who were briefly in the same place as those who have tested positive, instead focusing on close and very close contacts.

Six Kiwis with COVID-19 have died in the last nine days: three in home isolation, one in hospital, one in a quarantine hotel and another who was allegedly murdered.

The Delta outbreak began in August when the virus leaked out from a quarantine hotel via a traveller from NSW.

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