Covid 19 coronavirus: NZ buys second vaccine, mandatory mask order from today

New Zealand has bought a second Covid-19 vaccine, but has tightened border controls again until vaccines are rolled out.

The news comes as a mandatory mask order kicks in today – with everyone on Auckland public transport and flights required to cover their face.

From tomorrow, around 250,000 commuters using Auckland buses, trains and ferries every day will be legally required to wear a face covering as they journey to and from work.

Science Minister Megan Woods says New Zealand has agreed in principle to buy up to 5 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, a subsidiary of global giant Johnson & Johnson.

Up to 2 million doses would be delivered from the third quarter of 2021, with an option to buy up to 3 million additional doses to be delivered in 2022.

This follows a deal announced last month to buy 1.5m doses of a vaccine being developed by US-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNtech, with delivery that “could be as early as the first quarter of 2021”.

But at the same time, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced a tightening of controls on border workers including:

• Testing ship pilots and some other port workers who carry out work on affected ships weekly instead of fortnightly;

• Testing some workers who carry out work on aircraft that have arrived from outside of New Zealand weekly instead of fortnightly;

• Fortnightly testing for port workers not already covered;

• Fortnightly testing for airport airside and landside workers not already covered who interact with international arriving or transiting passengers; and

• Requiring employers to facilitate testing of their employees and to keep records of testing requirements and compliance.

An August public health order requiring regular testing of border workers is being amended to bring in the tighter rules from 11.59pm on November 25.

The new measures come as three new Covid cases were reported by the Ministry of Health yesterday, all in managed isolation – one who arrived from Britain via Dubai on Saturday and two others who came from Dubai on the same day.

Compulsory mask use returns today

Alerts have been sent out by Auckland Transport and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is urging everyone to “do your part” from today by wearing masks to tighten up the country’s defences against Covid-19.

In the latest change to public health rules announced on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a mandatory order for all commuters using Auckland public transport to cover up from 11.59pm on Wednesday as the region faces a second outbreak in recent months.

No new cases were reported in the community, but health agencies are still following up contacts of five community cases stemming from a member of the Defence Force who caught the virus at Auckland’s Jet Park quarantine hotel.

The Ministry of Health said officials “continue to encourage anyone who visited a location of interest during the relevant time period to get tested”.

The Government has allocated $66.3m to buy Covid-19 vaccines and prepare a vaccination programme, and is negotiating to buy other vaccines as well as the Pfizer and Janssen products.

“This agreement forms part of our portfolio approach to ensure that we have the ability to access a range of vaccine options, if and when a suitable vaccine is developed and approved,” Woods said.

“A key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it’s likely to be a single-dose vaccine and is compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels, so it may potentially be more efficient to administer.”

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, so the 1.5m doses that New Zealand is buying would immunise only 750,000 people. It also requires storage at minus 70 Celsius.

Hipkins declined to comment this week on whether New Zealand’s portfolio would include a vaccine announced by US-based Moderna, which claims 94.5 per cent effectiveness in preventing Covid-19.

He said there were “about 230 vaccine candidates under development … we’re monitoring them all and we’re in conversation with as many of them as we can be”.

“We’re making sure we’ve got the trucks and the refrigerators and all the gear ready to go for all the different potential vaccines, so … when they start arriving, we can start getting them out quickly,” he said.

Woods said the Ministry of Health was preparing “a range of vaccine scenarios and how best to sequence the delivery of vaccines” considering those at risk of contracting the virus, those at risk of spreading it and those at high risk of severe cases or death.

She said the ministry would ensure “equity of outcomes, including protection for Māori, Pacific peoples and our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff”.

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