New case UK variant, linked to South Auckland cluster

The usually bustling Queen St in Auckland during alert level 3 in December. Photo: RNZ
The usually bustling Queen St in Auckland during alert level 3 in December. Photo: RNZ
Aucklanders are back in lockdown for a full week and the rest of New Zealand is at level 2 after a person with Covid-19 visited public locations while symptomatic.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Q&A this morning the genomic sequencing suggests a link with the second family in the South Auckland cluster.

He confirmed that it was the UK variant. But he said officials have not yet confirmed how the new community case got the virus.

He said officials cannot yet confirm if other people have been infected. Hipkins is calling on anyone who has Covid symptoms to "go get a test now".

He is denying that Auckland came out of the lockdown too soon. At the time, things were looking contained.

The issue today is that a "seemingly unrelated person" to the current cluster has contracted Covid-19, Hipkins said. "We don't have all the information we need."

He said he learned about this new case in the early afternoon yesterday. After that, officials were looking to find much more information.

"I understand the people's disappointment," Hipkins said. But he added that the Oxford index shows that New Zealand has been one of the freest counties in the world.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has made a plea for people to "think twice before sharing...
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ
Hipkins said it was "disappointing" that the Covid-19 positive person didn't follow health advice. But he said he does not want a "pile [on]" as that would discourage other people to get tested.

He said official are now going back and checking the records to see when the family was contacted.

Hipkins called on all New Zealanders to follow the rules. As soon as vaccines are available, they would be rolled out to people who are "more at risk".

He said South Auckland, which is by an airport, is a setting that is more "at risk".

National Party leader Judith Collins told Q&A her reaction to hearing the case was "oh no, here we go again".

She said that now New Zealand has a "very real problem" when it comes to contact tracing.

She said it "may have been" the wrong call to take Auckland out of lockdown while there was still Covid-19 in the community - "We thought that was a brave call."

She said yo-yoing out of lockdown is bad news for Auckland. On compliance with the rules, she said more needs to be done.

She said if people are stuck in a queue for testing for hours, they won't want to get tested and that there needs to be far more testing stations in Papatoetoe.

She called on South Auckland to be prioritised when it comes to the vaccine rollout.

The new case - "Case M" - is a 21-year-old student who attends the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and is the older brother of a Papatoetoe High School student. The man, who also works at Kerry Logistics (Oceania) Limited, went to MIT for three days and to the gym twice - including once after taking a Covid test - when he should have been isolating at home.

At a hastily arranged press conference last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland would move into lockdown at 6am from today and the rest of the country to alert level 2.

Major events have been disrupted - this morning's Round the Bays run in Auckland was called off, while the Black Caps' and White Ferns' T20 cricket double-header, scheduled for Eden Park on Friday, has been moved to Wellington where the games will be played without crowds. The racing schedule for the America's Cup - which was due to start on the Hauraki Gulf on Saturday - is being reviewed.

Ardern, with Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, made the announcement of level changes at a hastily arranged press conference at 9pm on Saturday. It followed an urgent Cabinet meeting.

Ardern said the Government had no choice but to put Auckland back into lockdown after the new case was detected in the community.

Instead of following health advice, the person had been out in the community while infectious. This included attending the Manukau Institute of Technology for three days - February 22, 25 and 26.

The person is a household contact of a student from Papatoetoe High School who had returned three negative tests and was asymptomatic.

Ardern said there was "no doubt" that a contributing factor to the lockdown was that rules were not being followed.

The new community case should have been in isolation, she said. But after going to the GP to get a Covid-19 test, he ignored health advice and went to the gym.

He had also been to a number of other locations when he was symptomatic.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: ODT files
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: "Of course it's frustrating." Photo: Files
"Of course it's frustrating," Ardern said.

And she was leaving no room for interpretation when it comes to how clear officials made this to the new community case.

"I've seen the records of the multiple communications that went to members of the school community, advising them of what was required of students and household contacts."

The person visited:

• City Fitness, Papatoetoe (February 20, 26)
• Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) (February 22, 25, 26)
• Hunter Plaza (February 26)
• Burger King Highland Park (February 25)
• Your Health Pharmacy (February 23)
• Pak n Save Manukau (February 21)

Anyone who was at these locations is being advised to get tested.

Ardern sounded a warning to any would-be rule breakers. "We do have the ability to take enforcement action."

The action comes in the form of section 70 of the health order, which means a medical officer of health can oblige people to isolate.

But it was clear Ardern did not favour this heavy-handed approach.

"I don't want to create an environment where an individual who has made mistakes here, is so pilloried, that no one wants to be tested."

She urged everyone to "please follow the rules on behalf of everyone".

But National leader Judith Collins wants the Government to throw the book at people who ignore the rules.

"We need to consider tougher penalties against those who are not following public health advice around isolation and testing," she said.

Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images
Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images
She added that all New Zealanders would be frustrated at the level of non-compliance of the person at the centre of the new developments.

"Relying on people to do the right thing looks to have reached its limits and we may need tougher penalties to make sure everyone follows the rules.

"No one wants to be yo-yoing in and out lockdown."

Ardern said Cabinet considered a number of factors when looking at the new case and deciding if another lockdown was needed.

The exposure the new cases had with others worried Ardern the most.

"Because they have been infectious for as long as a week and had not been in isolation, there are a number of high-risk places involved in this case."

Given the time that has passed since the onset of their illness, Ardern said close contacts might already be infected.

The lockdown, Ardern said, would help prevent a large-scale spread.

It was Cabinet's "unfortunate, but necessary position of needing to protect Aucklanders once again".

As Auckland will be at level 3 for a week, any affected business can apply for the wage subsidy and the business support scheme.

Any business in the country that takes at least a 30 percent hit as a result of the lockdown can claim these subsidies.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said roughly $400-$500 million had been budgeted for these schemes.

Ardern said the seven-day lockdown was needed as it was the same amount of time the new case was infectious in the community.

She said it must be assumed that the strain of Covid-19 is the more infectious variant.

"The main thing we are asking people in Auckland to do is to stay at home."

This would reduce the risk of the virus spreading, she said.

When they can, people should work from home and children should stay home from school.

But, as was the case in previous lockdowns, supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open during level 3.

"Please, again, there is no need to rush to your supermarket."

Ardern said all sports or any other sorts of events need to be cancelled.

And the Auckland border will be reestablished – this will prevent anyone who does not have clearance from leaving the city.

Bloomfield last night also revealed that after testing the rest of the new community case's household contacts, the case's mother had tested positive for Covid-19.

When speaking to media last night, Ardern said some people may ask if Auckland should have remained at level 3 and not come out of lockdown.

But she said this was not the advice that the Government was given.

She pointed out that there had been 118,000 tests since February 14, when the first case of the new cluster was revealed.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he understood Aucklanders' frustration at having to return to level 3 lockdown.

"However, the consequences of letting the virus spread would be far more disruptive and would put people's lives at risk.

"Aucklanders are old hands at this now. We know what to do to beat the virus and we will get on and do it."

 

Comments

Unfortunately when young people are involved the rules will not always be obeyed. Three days of recent lockdown was never going to be enough to adequately address this level of community spread, especially if allowing for incubation periods and detailed contact tracing. The prior three days of lockdown was a feeble gesture, now the country once again finds itself back in lockdown, clearly frustrating for all.

The Covid flu is just another flu, and no more deadly. Are we going to continue to lockdown our countries or parts of them every time someone tests positive? Are we going to continue to do this and ruin our countries financially, until when?
Oh, until we defeat the covid. Have we defeated the common yearly flu yet?
Millions of people the world over have yet to realize that we are being intimidated and controlled; and there's more to come, e.g. vaccination passports---coming soon.

Covid is another virus. However you are quite incorrect about how deadly it is. This was established right back at the beginning and the basic figure has not changed. Covid carries more risk of long-term illness (Long Covid) than the common cold as was highlighted in a recent article. You have about a 20% chance of long term repercussions if you get covid. Of course, people who are immunosuppressed are in more danger. Places that ignored this have discovered high mortality, and are the cause of more catagious varients we're seeing now

Limiting the spread of bugs in general, is good for us - keeping away from others when you are sick is age-old advice we seem to have forgotten! Auckland happened because people were selfish or ignorant and didn't think about the consequences of their actions on others. Financial ruin? In general the economic data says no. You want to do some reading into how people handled the Black Death to realise that we're being pretty soft about this.

There is no world control! It's cheaper to use guns and violence to control populations. Look at Myanmar.

In one year, 2.5 million Covid 19 deaths worldwide and untold trauma for the millions of families that lost loved ones. Obviously you haven't been exposed directly. To make such cold hearted comments is in my view repugnant.

It seems to me that what we're seeing here is the result of a deliberate choice not to follow health advice. The science about "spreading germs" is basic and proven. We need to start seeing some consequences for folk who endanger others, be it people like Case M, religious convictions, people who think they are above wearing a mask on a bus, petty low level managers who force min-wage employees to work shifts when they are sick, etc.

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