Covid-19: Auckland downtown workers asked to work from home

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A new case identified in the community today had called in sick to work after being tested but went to work wearing a mask after talking to their boss, officials say.

All people who work in downtown Auckland are being asked to work from home where possible tomorrow because of the new case.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there has still been no direct source of infection identified. Any changes to alert levels will be announced tomorrow, he says.

The next update on the case and any decisions will be tomorrow afternoon.

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has interviewed the person.

The student in her 20s was one of three cases announced at the afternoon media briefing today.

McElnay says the woman’s job is a customer-facing role. She called in sick to work after being tested but went to work after talking to her boss, although she wore a mask.

The person took Uber trips to work and those drivers are being contacted and advised to be tested.

Hipkins says it is a disappointing situation. He’s asking employers to be “good” and accommodate staff calling in sick by allowing them to stay at home.

The person has three close contacts – a colleague and two friends – who are being tested and isolated, McElnay says. All report being well, but the two friends have been asked to isolate as a precaution.

There was no history of the positive case moving outside the Auckland CBD, she says.

Her apartment building is next door to a managed isolation facility.

The hotel had a fire alarm evacuation on Monday night, but that is not likely to be the source of the infection because the woman became symptomatic that same day.

All residents of the Vincent Residences have been asked to go home and stay home while testing takes place. The apartment building is being deep cleaned and a mobile testing station will be available outside, Dr McElnay says.

ARPHS is informing the residents at the positive case’s apartment building of the information they need to know.

Dr McElnay says the person was already symptomatic, so reports of mingling between guests and the public are unlikely to point to a source of infection.

Hipkins says the case’s workplace numbers are quite small, but the apartment complex is quite large. Testing at the site is “about to get under way”, he says, and suggestions of the source of the infection at this point are speculation.

This afternoon, the Covid Tracer app was used to send notifications to users who may have been at the same places as the positive case. The number of people who received the notifications is not yet known.

Places the woman visited:

  • On Saturday, 7 November: 3:50pm – 6pm Smith and Caughey’s Department Store, Queen St
  • 6pm – 8:30pm Red Pig Restaurant, Kitchener Street
  • Sunday, 8 November: 11:30am – 11:45am Takeaways from Starbucks Queen St and Sunnytown Restaurant, Lorne St
  • 6:40pm – 6:50pm Takeaways from The Gateau House, 332 Queen St
  • Monday, 9 November: 11:31am – 11:40am Takeaways from Starbucks, Queen St and from Sunnytown Restaurant, Lorne St

As for exam season, Hipkins says exams are generally socially distanced but whether they go ahead will be reviewed tomorrow. He says exam seating would help in reducing transmission.

The positive case’s close contacts’ contacts have been identified and it is a small circle, McElnay says.

As stated at the 1pm briefing, genome sequencing for the case is expected tomorrow and should help identify a link to any recent positive cases.

There have been four recent imported cases of Covid-19 at the managed isolation facility that the Auckland community case lives next to. Health officials have the whole genome sequencing of those cases, so will be able to see whether there is any link.

People have been queuing at a pop-up testing station in Freiberg Place, off High Street, which is about 100m from the store A-Z store where the woman worked.

The ARPHS website has a full list of testing locations.

McElnay reiterates the advice that anyone in the country with cold or flu symptoms should get tested and stay home until they get tests back.

“Anyone in the Auckland area and indeed, anywhere throughout New Zealand, who has cold or flu symptoms should get a test and stay at home until they have a negative test result,” McElnay says.

“We are asking people who work in downtown Auckland to work from home tomorrow, where possible.”

The ministry has asked that anyone who works in central Auckland work from home if possible.

Hipkins says there’s no evidence that there’s an enhanced risk outside of the Auckland CBD. He says those who cannot work from home should wear a mask and redouble hygiene efforts.

He is also education minister and says it is still safe for children of people who live in Auckland CBD to go to school.

He says the steps that need to be taken are simple, but everyone needs to play their part.

People are asked to also observe social distancing and use the Covid Tracer app.

Hipkins says at the moment the information available suggests the case may be well contained. It is hoped that in the next 12 hours a link to an existing case will be found.

“At this point we have the information that we have put our there … we will have more tomorrow … I’m confidence that the guidance we can give today is the best we can give based on the information we have,” Hipkins says.

Hipkins says he has had several conversations with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to keep her updated, and if a Cabinet meeting is held tomorrow, it will be digital.

At this point, officials will still travel to the Cook Islands on Saturday to assess a travel bubble.

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