Covid curveball: Auckland down and Waikato up to level 3?

Grant Robertson has confirmed so far only one firm employing more than 500 people have applied...
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ
Three members of a Waikato household linked to a remand prisoner with Covid-19 have also tested positive for the virus - complicating just what the Government will do as it meets today to decide the future of Auckland's lockdown.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says the Ministry of Health will today provide advice on whether Auckland and Waikato might both move to alert level 3.

The Government is due to make a decision on Auckland's lockdown rules today. The city has been at level 4 for five weeks, and the Government last week said it had made an in-principle decision it made to move the city down to level 3, and the rest of the country back to less restrictive level 2 settings, at midnight tomorrow.

Robertson today told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking he was not freaked out by the Waikato situation but it needed to be managed. Officials had good information about the prisoner's movements, which were very limited.

"As long as we can connect it to one of the existing clusters" it would not affect today's decision.

"We'll take a look at that - more information will emerge" throughout the day, Robertson said.

Asked on TVNZ how a remand prisoner within an alert level 4 boundary could be moved into an alert level 2 house, Robertson said: "It's the decision of the court."

He said that it was not necessarily unusual for that to happen. For example, people in MIQ in Auckland could go home to an alert level 2 region.

Robertson said if officials could link the new cases to an existing cluster, it meant the situation was under control.

Asked whether the new situation might mean Auckland will stay in alert level 4, he said "not necessarily."

Robertson told Hosking he did not agree that a move to level 3 for Auckland from midnight tomorrow meant the elimination strategy was over. There were still significant restrictions at that level - "it's a recognition that we believe we don't have uncontrolled transmission if we move to level 3."

One of the three new Waikato cases is a child who was symptomatic while at Mangatangi School on Thursday.

Michael Baker says the situation in New South Wales  shows how vigilant New Zealand has to be...
Michael Baker. Photo: RNZ
The school sits outside of Auckland's level 4 boundary - on the western side of the Firth of Thames just north of Maramarua - and leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says officials may also now look at whether the Waikato region has to move up to alert level 3, at least, as a result of the new cases.

The three new cases bring the total announced on Sunday to 27. At least three of them are unlinked to the existing outbreak, not including the positive trio in Waikato.

All of the Covid-19 cases in the outbreak were restricted to Auckland until the three new Waikato cases were announced by the Ministry of Health on Sunday evening.

Two of the three new Waikato cases - who are all in the same household - attend Mangatangi School on the Hauraki Plains. All three positive cases, and an accompanying adult caregiver, are being moved to a quarantine facility.

The school has been closed and parents have been contacted. Arrangements are being made for the students and their families to be tested.

There are nine people in the household. Five others have tested negative and the ninth household member will be tested today.

The prisoner linked to the household was released on e-monitored bail from Mt Eden Prison on September 8 to a residence in the Firth of Thames.

Electronic monitoring shows the man remained at the property from September 8 until he self-reported to police at the East Coast Road boundary checkpoint at Waharau Regional Park.

The prisoner was held in custody in a cell before appearing in the Manukau District Court on Friday. He later tested positive for Covid-19.

A pop-up testing centre will be set up today at the Wharekawa Marae in Whakatīwai.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says the three new cases in Waikato are "very frustrating" - and now complicates things as Auckland waits to see today if it will come out of alert level 4 from midnight tomorrow.

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast, Baker said the cases - including the prisoner who tested positive for the virus late last week - now threatened that move down in alert levels.

Immunologist Dianne Sika-Paotonu reiterated that concern, saying she believed the new cases now meant it looked unlikely that Auckland would move out of level 4.

Baker said: "It's a sad reminder of how infectious this virus is."

Baker acknowledged how tough people were doing it - especially those on the fringe of the city.

He acknowledged the students caught up in the new cases in Waikato and how that was concerning, given they would have been at school in alert level 2 - when restrictions were much more relaxed.

"We just need ... this one big final push to stamp [this] out."

Sika-Paotonu said even with the new cases popping up outside of Auckland, she believed officials would not have agreed for Auckland to drop alert levels. "I still think it would've been unlikely."

It showed the virus had spread outside of Auckland, she told Breakfast.

Any locals with symptoms are being encouraged to get tested.

A message on Mangatangi School's Facebook page on Sunday afternoon said it had "informal notification" of a positive Covid case in its school community and will close today.

"The public health unit are urgently completing Covid testing," principal Christine West said in the post.

She said the school's Board of Trustees decided to close the school on Monday in the interest of tamariki, whanau and staff, and urged anyone who had symptoms to get tested.

The post was taken down shortly afterwards.

Mangatangi School is a small rural school and had 109 students on its roll at its last Education Review Office report in 2020.

The school is in an alert level 2 area and had been open to students.

Posts and comments on a community Facebook page for the area said the child's family was getting heckled at their home, with many calling for support for the family.

The principal of nearby Maramarua School, Andre van Schalkwyk, has asked parents to keep their children at home and get tested if they are feeling unwell or showing any symptoms.


Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter