Hipkins confirms positive case is South African variant

The Covid-19 community case in Northland is the South African strain, Covid recovery minister Chris Hipkins says.

The South African variant is more infectious than the original strain of coronavirus.

New forms, or variants, of the virus have become increasingly common around the world – and we have expected to see them here in New Zealand. 

"We know where the source of the infection is," said Hipkins, who is updating on the case with director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

Travellers who stayed in MIQ at Pullman Hotel from January 9-24 are being asked to self-isolate "immediately", Hipkins said.

The community case - a 56-year-old woman who lives south of Whangarei - was in managed isolation in the Pullman Hotel.

Officials are reviewing CCTV at the Pullman Hotel to look at how the infection occurred, he said.

Link to managed isolation

Whole genome sequencing has linked the case to another guest who was in the managed isolation facility. Their genome sequencing results are identical, leading us to suspect a managed isolation facility transmission.

Early information suggests the transmission occurred between 9 January and 13 January. 

Routine testing picked up Covid-19 in the other guest, and this person was transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility on 13 January.They have been classified as recovered and were due to be released but will be asked to stay on for now. 

As expected, there have been other cases in the same MIF and we are investigating any possible links between cases to exclude transmission within the MIF.

Returnees at Pullman hotel kept in MIQ longer

It has been decided this morning to delay the release of people staying at the Pullman, he said.

Forty-six people are impacted by that decision, he said.

Of approximately 220 staff at the Pullman staff, 114 have been tested this week, he said.

The remainder of tests will be completed by 4pm.

Long waits for testing in Northland

Asked about the delay Bloomfield said there would be testing waits in some places. There were 17 sites up and running in the region which were swabbing people for Covid.

"We want people to be tested."

Northland and Auckland health officials have worked to provide additional testing sites in the area that the woman went to after leaving managed isolation.

There is high demand at community testing centres in Northland currently. It is important that anyone who went to a location of interest around the same time of the case, or may be showing symptoms, is prioritised to get a test.

Northland community testing is available now at: Mangawhai Domain, today until Wednesday; the Ngati Hine Health Trust in Kawakawa; the Turner Centre in KeriKeri today and tomorrow; the Visitor Centre at Ruakaka today and tomorrow until 4pm; and Winger Crescent in Kamo, Whangarei. Testing is also available at Daragaville, Rawene and Kaitaia Hospital.

For anyone that has not been to a location of interest but is concerned, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or call your GP to see if you need to have a test. Please remember to stay home if you are unwell, maintain stringent hygiene practices, including washing and drying your hands and cough or sneeze into your elbow. 

Fake lockdown news on social media

Infographics on Facebook had been circulated about a lockdown on Facebook which was fake, Hipkins said.

He urged people to only share information they knew was true.

Bloomfield said contact tracing on the case has identified 15 people as close contacts

Thirteen of them worked in retail stores and it is not immediately clear who served the case, he said.

"All have been contacted."

So far we know the woman's two closest contacts have returned negative tests which are encouraging, he said.

"What we know so far is it may be more transmissible," he said of the South African variant.

"They are not confined to specific countries," Bloomfield said.

New forms or variants have become common around the world, he said.

"They are not confined to specific countries."

He wanted to acknowledge the woman's frequent use of the scanning ap.

"It has enabled us to follow up quickly anyone who may have had contact with her."

"I can't thank the person enough...remember this could be anyone at any time.

Ministry couldn't contact all businesses that community case visited

Bloomfield said yesterday that all businesses where the community cases have visited would be contacted before a full list of locations would be published.

Some businesses, however, learned of the news on Facebook before hearing from the Ministry of Health.

Bloomfield today said that as many locations of interest as possible were contacted to alert them, he said.

"We were not able to get through to all of them", he said.

"[We] made the call to publish it all online with a push alert, he said.

Woman's husband and hairdresser test negative

The woman's husband has tested negative, Hipkins said this morning, as had another close contact.

She left on January 13 and, after developing Covid symptoms, was tested on Friday January 22.

Between leaving the Pullman and Covid being confirmed on Saturday, she visited 28 places around Northland (see the list below) and anyone there at the same time has been asked to get a test and to self-isolate until the results are known.

The woman arrived back in New Zealand from Europe on December 30 and spent 14 days at the Pullman. After getting a negative tests on January 2 and 10 before leaving.

The woman has been praised for assiduously using QR codes which has given a detailed record of her movements while possibly infectious.

6 cases in managed isolation today

There are 6 cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation to report in New Zealand since our last media statement yesterday. Please see table below.

Twenty previously reported cases have now recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 64.  Our total number of confirmed cases is 1,932.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,489,913.

On Sunday, 2,678 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 3,451 tests processed. 

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