Eleven cases linked to Auckland coolstore

There are four cases at Americold in Mt Wellington in Auckland. Photo: NZ Herald
There are four cases at Americold in Mt Wellington in Auckland. Photo: NZ Herald
Eleven confirmed cases of Covid-19 are now linked to a Mt Wellington coolstore as a community transmission cluster worsens across Auckland.

The New Zealand Herald revealed this morning three more workers at Americold's Mt Wellington facility had tested positive for the deadly virus, after a man in his 50s was earlier confirmed positive.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield this afternoon announced that seven family members of those workers had also tested positive overnight.

That brings the total associated with the facility to 11.

Americold managing director Richard Winnall told the Herald test results had come back this morning confirming the new infections, taking the facility's tally of confirmed worker infections to four.

He understood there were further confirmed cases relating to family members of the positive Americold workers, but said details around these would be released by the Ministry of Health.

"It's not good. There's a lot of people awaiting test results, they've got families. There's a lot of anxiety and concern."

About half of the Mt Wellington workers had received test results and the rest were due soon.

"At the Mt Wellington facility we've had a further three confirmed cases. They were earmarked as close contacts and probable and they've all come back as confirmed."

He would not give details about the age or gender of the confirmed cases, saying more information would be released at this afternoon's 1pm Ministry of Health press conference.

"I understand there are further cases related to those individuals and their families but I'm not in a position to comment."

Testing results at the company's Auckland Airport plant had all come back negative.

Yesterday the ministry revealed one of four family members from South Auckland who had tested positive for the virus worked at the Americold plant in Mt Wellington. Another is linked to the finance company Finance Now on Dominion Rd.

Bloomfield said two new infections linked to Finance Now had been confirmed overnight. One was an employee who was admitted to North Shore Hospital yesterday but had since been discharged. The other was a family member of that employee.

Auckland was plunged back into alert level 3 lockdown yesterday after news of the new infections.

There is currently no known link to overseas travel or managed isolation, and the source of infection is unknown.

It was revealed yesterday surface testing was under way at the Mt Wellington coolstore to determine if the virus could have been brought into the country on refrigerated goods.

Winnall confirmed there had been an outbreak in the past week of two cases at the company's Melbourne facility.

However, he was adamant there was no link with the Mt Wellington cases. He stressed there were no shipments from the Melbourne plant direct to the company's Auckland factories and the positive Australian cases worked on a completely different supply chain.

"We are extremely confident there is no link."

Winnall said surface testing was starting today. He believed the risk of transmission from surface contamination of refrigerated goods was "improbable".

Bloomfield agreed the risk was "highly unlikely".

"Almost certainly the most likely explanation is person to person transmission, but we're wanting to rule out the coolstore link."

The Herald has put questions to the Ministry of Health about the latest confirmed cases. The newspaper has also asked if the ministry is aware of Americold's Melbourne outbreak, and whether it's investigating if the outbreak is a possible source for the Mt Wellington infection.

The Herald has also sought comment from Finance Now. An employee said news this week of the company's link to the deadly virus was a "huge surprise".

Another referred comment to SBS Bank, saying there was a lot of conflicting information, but he had been instructed not to speak to media.

An SBS Bank spokesman would not answer questions about latest testing results at the company and whether anyone else now had the virus.

"That's something we'd leave to the Ministry of Health to comment on. It's not a 'declined to comment, it's an 'unable to respond'."

Health officials are now scrambling to trace close contacts of the South Auckland family and experts warn there may already be several dozen cases of the virus circulating in the community.

This morning Bloomfield confirmed a student at Mount Albert Grammar who was a close contact of the four existing South Auckland cases had tested positive for the virus.

At least 100 school pupils and staff who attended classes at the school this week alongside the infected pupil are considered close contacts and are in self-isolation.

The student was not symptomatic when they turned up to school on Monday but had since become sick and tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday.

Emails had been sent to the whole school community asking all students and staff who were not considered close contacts to watch out for symptoms and get tested if they fell ill.

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