Fifteen close contacts of Northland case test negative

More than 1500 people have been tested for Covid-19 in Northland, with no evidence so far of a positive result in the community, Ministry of Health figures show.

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation reported today.

The latest cases come in MIQ from Japan and Portugal, arriving on January 24. They were both detected in routine testing soon after landing, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

There are no new cases in the community today.

Today's figures follow revelations that a Northland woman, 56, who recently returned from Europe tested positive for the infection days after leaving managed isolation.

The Ministry of Health said 16 people had now been identified as potential close contacts of the infected woman. Of those, 15 people had returned negative tests, including a household contact of the case.

An additional close contact was still awaiting their test result.

At this point 154 people had been identified as "casual plus" contacts of the Northland woman, as a result of either the push notification or after speaking with Healthline following media publicity. These people were being tested and isolating until they receive their result, said the ministry.

A total of 187 people received a push notification as a result of having scanned into one of 31 locations of interest visited by the infected woman. A further location was added yesterday and was on the ministry's website.

The ministry said more than 1500 people were tested at community testing centres yesterday around the Northland region.

Meanwhile 157 staff from the Pullman Hotel in Auckland had been tested along with 192 guests currently in the managed isolation facility. Of those, 30 still have test results to come, and all others have returned negative results.

The 56-year-old returnee contracted the South African Covid variant B.1.351 from another infected person while isolating at the Pullman hotel in downtown Auckland.

After she left the hotel, she returned to her home in Northland, travelling and shopping in communities around the region while infectious.

Contact tracing staff were following up with 357 people who left the managed isolation facility between January 9 and 24, the ministry said.

Of that number, 325 people had been contacted, were in isolation and had been or were being tested. The remaining former guests were being followed up today.

The ministry said the investigation into how the Northland case was infected continued today at the managed isolation facility.

This includes reviewing CCTV footage at the facility and looking at whether the infection may have occurred from person-to-person or surface transmission, or airborne transmission, including possibly the ventilation system.

"We'd like to take this opportunity to again thank the tireless efforts of all staff working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities around New Zealand," the ministry said.

"Your frontline efforts to help break the chain of transmission of COVID-19 and keep New Zealanders safe and healthy are truly appreciated."

Since news first broke, testing stations across the northern holiday region have been swamped.

Some concerned locals have spent up to 10 hours waiting in long, hot queues, for a test after the Ministry of Health revealed more than 30 locations of interest from Whangarei to Helensville visited over a nine-day spell while the woman was infectious.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed the woman and her only close household contact, her husband, were isolating at their home south of Whangārei.

Hipkins revealed two of four close contacts, her husband and a hairdresser, had not contracted the infection.

Today he tweeted a further 14 close contacts had also tested negative.

Just three test results were now outstanding.

"Pretty encouraging news to start the day," he tweeted.

Despite the welcome news the region remains on a knife edge with thousands of concerned people lining up at testing stations for a second day running.

Health authorities have moved to set up additional testing stations across the region and shifted some to bigger venues to accommodate the hundreds of vehicles clogging roads.

Meanwhile, contentious Covid checkpoints will be set up on Northland roads by a group behind last year's road blocks.

Rueben Taipari, Tai Tokerau Border Control regional coordinator, said the location and timing of checkpoints had yet to be confirmed.

The group had to act because the government was not doing enough to protect the vulnerable, he said.

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