Covid-19 update: Ministry narrows down transmission link of Northland case to MIQ

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The latest community Covid-19 patient is highly likely to have caught the disease directly from a person on the same floor as her in managed isolation.

In a news briefing this afternoon, minister in charge of the Covid-19 response Chris Hipkins said genomic testing has shown the 56-year-old woman has the South African variant of the disease (B.1.3.5.1.) and that it is identical to another person staying on the same floor as her at the Pullman Hotel.

That person tested positive shortly before the woman left the hotel at the end of her stay. Early information suggests the transmission occurred between 9 January and 13 January.

The case had been classified as recovered and was due to be released from quarantine but will be asked to stay on for now.

A decision has been made to delay the release of 46 people staying within the Pullman Hotel.

All those released from the same isolation facility since the woman left it are being contacted, advised to self-isolate immediately, and contact Healthline for a test. Meanwhile, many of the staff working there have already been retested with the remainder being tested today.

The ministry said there was limited epidemiological data available on this variant, making it harder to study, but the main concern was that the mutation affects the body’s immune response to it and its transmissibility.

There have also been other cases in the same facility and the ministry is working to rule out any other possible links between cases.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said investigations were underway to find out how the woman caught the virus, including whether it was through the ventilation system.

Pullman Hotel in Auckland. Managed isolation facility.

Pullman Hotel in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Work has started on the new filtration systems for air conditioning in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Hipkins said.

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Health officials are considering whether to restrict the movements of guests after they’ve had their second and final test to prevent them getting infected as they leave.

The woman and her only close household contact are isolating at their home south of Whangārei.

The Northland District Health Board Medical Officer of Health has decided that the pair are currently able to isolate at home after assessing the case.

Yesterday, the ministry said there were four people considered to be close contacts, and that has now increased to 15 after a further interview with the woman.

They have all been contacted by health officials, are self-isolating and have been tested for Covid-19. Two have so far returned negative results – the woman’s husband and a hairdresser.

Meanwhile, Hipkins said the government would have more to say about a vaccine on Tuesday.

He said Covid-19 had been a subject at almost every Cabinet meeting in the past 12 months and this particular case would be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting too. That includes any changes to the Covid-19 response that may be deemed necessary.

Six cases in managed isolation today

Six cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation have been reported in New Zealand today.

Five of them who arrived on 23 January tested positive upon arrival – two came from Qatar via Australia, two from India via United Arab Emirates and Malaysia and one from Laos via Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia.

The other case tested positive around day 11 of their stay in managed isolation. All cases are in Auckland.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Minister in charge of the Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Twenty previously reported cases have now recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 64 and the total number of confirmed cases is 1932.

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

On Sunday, 2678 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 3451 tests processed.

Covid Tracer app notifications and Bluetooth

The Covid Tracer app notifications were issued last night to more than 160 people who visited locations of interest, that the latest community case went to, and used the app.

People who were in the vicinity of the woman and have enabled Bluetooth functionality on their app have started to receive notifications.

In the briefing today, Hipkins called for businesses to make sure Covid-19 QR codes were easy to access.

As for contact tracing, Bloomfield said the woman’s use of the tracing app had enabled quick follow-up of any potential contacts.

“I can’t thank the person enough for their dedicated use of the app – this could be anyone.”

The full list of locations is available here.

Public health staff made calls to those businesses last night to provide advice and additional followup is happening today.

The app now has 2,475,624 registered users.

In the past 24 hours to 1pm today, 802,973 scans have been recorded. The ministry said this was a notable increase.

Poster scans have reached a total of 159,056,758 and users have created 6,476,767 manual diary entries.

Community testing stations

There are additional testing sites now available in the areas that the woman went to after leaving managed isolation.

The ministry warned there was high demand at community testing centres in Northland but anyone who had visited a location of interest around the same time as the case, or was showing symptoms, needed to be prioritised.

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

Further information about hours and other community testing sites in the area is available here.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has a full list of community testing centres throughout the region here.

The ministry is also reminding people to stay home if they are are unwell, maintain stringent hygiene practices, including washing and drying hands and cough or sneeze into your elbow.

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