No new Covid community cases, NZ still in 'critical period'

Despite more than 16,000 tests being processed yesterday, no new cases of Covid-19 have been found in the community, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield were giving the latest Covid-19 update this afternoon with a focus on the vaccine rollout.

Auckland remains in an alert level 3 lockdown due to the latest cluster in Auckland, while the rest of the country is at alert level 2.

The latest cluster involves four families including people attending Papatoetoe High School,  two women who went on a walk during lockdown,  a person who worked at KFC,  a visitor to Kmart and a person who went to the gym when they should have been isolating.

There were no new community cases reported on Tuesday, and four people in managed isolation. Two of the new cases were found in managed isolation, one of which is a historical case.

Hipkins described the result as good news, although re-iterated that the country was still in a "critical period" regarding the latest Auckland outbreak.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still a very long tunnel."

He said Kiwis still had a lot of hard yards to do over the next year despite vaccines being on the horizon.

The minister did not want to pre-empt Cabinet's decision about alert levels. Cabinet will meet to discuss them on Friday and received information right up until the meeting begins.

Bloomfield said yesterday that any positive cases that may have resulted from potential exposure to the coronavirus in Auckland last week would start to turn up today.

Hipkins said tests results were still coming in however, and "we're not quite there yet" in terms of being certain that the latest cluster has not spread further.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins (left) and Director General of Health Dr Ashley...
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins (left) and Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: Getty Images

VACCINE ROLLOUT

As of midnight on Tuesday, 9431 people have received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, including over half of New Zealand's Covid-19 frontline border workers, Hipkins says.

More than 70% of those vaccines have been delivered in the Tāmaki Makaurau-Auckland region, equating to 6688 people, Hipkins says, and about 20% are Māori and Pasifika.

The Government received its third batch of the Pfizer vaccine this week. That shipment of 65,500 doses arrived as airfreight at Auckland airport. It brings the country's total Covid-19 vaccines available to date to more than 200,000.

Bloomfield said information about the vaccine had been translated into 23 different languages, and the vaccine is considered both kosher and halal-friendly.

He said he participated in a Zoom meeting last night with 140 leaders across a diverse range of communities to let them know about the vaccination programme.

Hipkins said the next group of people to be offered the vaccine will be non-border frontline health workers - about 50,000 are expected to be in that group. These are the workers who deal directly with patients who may have Covid-19.

"Offering this group the opportunity to be vaccinated next will also help to protect against the spread of other at-risk communities they may be dealing with," he said. "We have made a very strong start."

Hipkins said officials might not measure how many people have turned down the vaccine, but would share the information they have.

The vaccine is not compulsory, although it is encouraged. He said there might be discussions with border workers who refuse it to be possibly deployed to a less at-risk role.

CONTACT TRACING 

Bloomfield said between February 14 and 26, some 87% of close contacts of a positive Covid-19 case were contacted within 48 hours from the moment the public health unit were notified.

The latest contact tracing data, which will include data from the latest outbreak, will be published to the Ministry of Health's website next week.

Bloomfield said 11 community-based testing centres are open again today in Auckland, many of which are in South or East Auckland. GPs are also open.

Healthline had 3761 calls yesterday, with an average waiting time of 12 minutes, Bloomfield said.

COMMUNICATIONS, MESSAGING AND BULLYING

On Case L, the case Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier said should have been isolating, Bloomfield said they had clear instructions right form the start that all students needed to be tested.

Hipkins said clear guidance was sent to all of the families of Papatoetoe High School on February 17 that everybody in the households should get a test, and more information was sent out on Februrary 19.

He said the two siblings showed symptoms on February 19 and 20 and the person went to work on February 22 despite having two symptomatic people in the household and none had been tested.

Hipkins said there was enough information for them not to have gone into work and that was the point Ardern was making.

"There was clearly enough risk here for the family to know they should not have been engaging widely in the community."

Bloomfield said the key point was that anyone who is symptomatic should get a test quickly.

He reminded people who are close contacts that they must remain isolating at home until they are released by health officials. People who were symptomatic should seek a test quickly and should remain in isolation until the test is returned.

Hipkins said pile-ons through social media simply do not help.

"We want people who make mistakes to come forward. We should be showing kindness to people who are coming forward."

Bloomfield said communication from the school was really good.

ALERT LEVEL 3 DEFENDED

Hipkins earlier today rejected suggestions the continued lockdown was embarrassing when there were no new cases. He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking it was "encouraging" and stood by the decision to move Auckland to alert level 3.

"I think we're back to where we were two weeks ago. Ultimately we want to get out of lockdown as soon as we can... we're working at speed to make sure we can get decisions as quick as we can."

The last thing he wanted was to go back into lockdown, he said.

Test results due to come back included people who had come into contact with a 21-year-old man, dubbed Case M, who visited a number of places in South Auckland when he would have been infectious.

He is a student at the Manukau Institute of Technology. He visited the campus several times and on several days last week.

- RNZ and NZ Herald 

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