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Cabinet will meet at 3pm to decide New Zealand's ongoing Covid response, but a level 4 lockdown is not in the frame right now, Hipkins told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning.
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"All of the evidence suggest it's still the one cluster. Obviously we release the new number at 1pm. There have been some additional cases and we will release those at 1pm today.
"Yes, all of the cases so far remain connected. That is very encouraging but obviously we haven't identified the point of origin.
"Level 4 is not in frame at the moment. You would need to see a number of different clusters and a number of different isolated cases before you make a decision along those lines. There is nothing like that in the frame at this point."
On Tuesday, the 102-day streak of no community transmission came to an end after four people in an Auckland family tested positive without any link to overseas travel.
There are 12 new confirmed cases of Covid in the community and one probable case, director general of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed on Friday. Seventeen cases were confirmed on Thursday, all linked to the Auckland cluster.
Auckland has been put into alert level 3 restrictions, while the rest of the country is at alert level 2.
Hipkins said it was now compulsory for border workers to be tested, defending the Government's earlier approach and revelations only a third had been tested.
Auckland University Professor of Medicine Des Gorman rated the Government's response as "somewhere between two and three" out of 10.
"I've seen health systems manage medical emergencies worse than this but it takes some doing," Gorman told Hosking. "It's like we're living in a parallel universe."
He was particularly astounded that only a third of border workers had been tested up until this week. "I thought someone was pulling my leg."
New Zealand had now had the same experience as Australia, Vietnam and other countries whose elimination strategies had been undermined by cases through the border.
"If we are going to have a keep-it-out, stamp-it-out [approach], then we need to keep it out as much as possible, stamp it out as quickly as possible... but you can't keep reacting the way we are to clusters by plunging society back into deep freeze."
Hipkins said he had not spoken to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters who claimed on Australian television that a border breach had led to the new cluster. "There is no evidence to substantiate that claim at the moment."
Earlier, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told RNZ's Morning Report programme if the city was to go back into alert level 4 it would need government assistance.
"So that we can continue doing that work of building infrastructure, regenerating the economy, creating jobs ... greater assistance by Government to ensure we can fund those infrastructure jobs would be hugely important."
Goff said "the petrol tank is empty" and the council can't borrow anymore.
DECISION ANNOUNCED THIS EVENING
New Zealanders will be told this evening if the Covid-19 lockdown measures to stamp out community infection will be extended past midnight.
Cabinet will meet about 3pm today to review the last pieces of information it needs before making a decision.
Senior ministers would receive results from a ‘‘significantly larger’’ range of tests from across the community and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make an announcement at 5.30pm.
Ms Ardern said yesterday that Auckland would be in Level 3 until at least midnight tonight, while the rest of the country would be at Level 2 during the same period.
She said yesterday that Cabinet would need to have a better idea about, for example, whether there were any cases not linked to the Auckland cluster.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will give advice to Cabinet and attend the 1pm meeting with Hipkins.
Ms Ardern highlighted the ‘‘seriousness of the situation’’ yesterday afternoon.
‘‘As we all learnt from our first experience with Covid, once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows.
‘‘We should expect that to be the case here. Things will get worse before they get better,’’ she said.
In an attempt to limit transmission, Dr Bloomfield yesterday ordered that all cases of Covid-19 be managed in a quarantine facility.
In previous instances, when there was last community transmission in New Zealand, those infected self-isolated at home.
- NZ Herald and RNZ