Covid-19: What happened in NZ on 28 January, 2021

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More details have emerged about two new community cases, Australia extended its travel bubble suspension, and new instructions were given to people staying in managed isolation. Here’s a summary of today’s Covid-19 developments in New Zealand.

Chris Hipkins

More cases have been linked to the Pullman Hotel MIQ facility, Australia has extended its ban on a travel bubble for Kiwis, and police closed down a community checkpoint, amog today’s other events. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Further details about two new community cases of Covid-19 emerged today, including that they are a father and daughter who stayed at the Pullman Hotel in managed isolation around the same time as a 56-year-old Northland woman who was confirmed to have the virus on Sunday.

Just like the woman, they also have the highly transmissible South African strain.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said preliminary genomic sequencing showed a link between them and the Northland case. In turn, they are all linked to the same source case, who remained in quarantine.

Investigations into common areas of the Pullman Hotel are continuing as the ministry tries to find how the virus was transmitted between the cases.

The father has not been at work and the daughter has not attended childcare since they left isolation on 15 January. But they visited at least 19 locations of interest where other members of the public were at the same time.

All locations are in north Auckland, mainly Albany, Orewa, Silverdale and Northcote.

Anyone who visited those locations during the time period specified and anyone in the country with symptoms, are being asked to isolate and call Healthline to arrange a test and remain isolated until they receive their result.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there is likely to be a single chain of transmission between the original source case in the Pullman and the three community cases.

The father and daughter are now staying in isolation at the Jet Park facility in Auckland, while the daughter’s mother is isolating at home.

The pair have 11 close contacts and five have been tested and returned negative results.

Changes to managed isolation

Hipkins told Morning Report no new returnees would be sent to the Pullman Hotel, its staff would now not be allowed to move between facilities, and the air-conditioning would be kept on to flush out the air in common spaces.

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“Until we’ve figured out what’s happened at the Pullman we won’t put more people in there,” he said.

“We’re endeavouring to control that risk as much as we can.”

Pullman Hotel in Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles said increasing ventilation in the Pullman Hotel was a good move though it’s also possible the virus could have spread through human error.

“The Northland case had a room that was opposite somebody else’s room,” Wiles said.

“If there are virus particles in the air of that room when you open the door they will end up going into the corridor.

“This is why increasing that air flow in the corridors to flush that out is one really, really important thing.”

It was also announced today that all returnees in managed isolation will have to stay in their rooms after their final day 12 test from Saturday onwards.

Australia extends travel suspension

Australia has extended its travel suspension for three more days following news of the latest community cases.

Passengers wearing masks arrive from New Zealand at Sydney International Airport on October 16, 2020.

Photo: AFP / David Gray

New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia freely since late last year, but new measures, in place for at least the next three days, mean people travelling from New Zealand will have to stay in managed isolation.

Australia’s acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said he had been advised that a small number of people who were in the Pullman Hotel at the same time as these other cases, have since travelled to Australia on green zone flights- before the quarantine free travel was paused on Monday.

He said those people were being followed up by the health authorities in the state where they landed.

New Zealand had last month agreed in principal to a travel bubble with Australia early this year, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier this week the idea of a full trans-Tasman bubble was becoming “increasingly difficult”.

However, the group tasked with forming a full trans-Tasman bubble believes it could still be in place in eight weeks.

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Police shut down iwi checkpoint

Police today shut down a community checkpoint in Waiomio in Northland citing traffic safety concerns.

The checkpoint – aimed at giving visitors Covid-19 information – was one of three set up this morning in the Far North.

Hone Harawira talks to Inspector Riki Whiu at Waiomio checkpoint in Northland

Hone Harawira talks to Inspector Riki Whiu at Waiomio checkpoint in Northland Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Inspector Riki Whiu from Northland police said it was important pedestrians stayed safe on the roadside and motorists weren’t prevented from driving on a state highway which had a 100km/h speed limit.

“Police engaged with the group when attempts were made to prevent traffic flowing,” Whiu said.

“The group willingly complied with police and they left the area a short time later.”

Iwi checkpoint spokesperson Hone Harawira said tens of thousands of people usually travelled to the district on Auckland Anniversary weekend and Te Tai Tokerau people were worried.

“Our job is to re-establish checkpoints to protect our people from Covid-19 and this new variant, the South African strain.

“This will enable us to provide a strong visible public presence, provide information on where to get help.”

Iwi chairs call for isolation numbers to be slashed

The National Iwi Chairs pandemic response group has called for the number of New Zealanders returning home to be restricted to 1500 a week, almost half the current number of returnees.

More than 5400 people are expected to arrive over the next two weeks.

The group’s principal adviser, Dr Rawiri Taonui, said it was no longer sustainable to allow that many people into the country.

“The important thing is that the Northland case and the two cases in Auckland, that’s the 11th outbreak in New Zealand and all our outbreaks have occurred when the average number of returnees per week is over 2000, what that has caused is active cases in MIQ to be between 60 – 75,” Taonui said.

“That creates more pressure on the MIQ system and greater risk of transfer into the community.”

The Iwi Chairs pandemic response group was also critical of pre-departure testing introduced on 16 January, which it said wasn’t working as passengers weren’t providing proof of a negative test.

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Advice from the Ministry of Health:

  • The recent cases of Covid-19 in Auckland and Northland have been linked to Managed Isolation and Quarantine. There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission.
  • The locations visited by the recent cases can be found on the Ministry of Health website
  • To help stamp out Covid-19, it’s important the right people isolate and get tested
  • If you were at the locations of interest at the times stated, you need to: isolate away from others, call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice on when and where to get tested, and remain isolated until you have a negative test result
  • If you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested
  • If you were not at any of the locations of interest at the stated times, but you have symptoms, call Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453
  • If you are going to get tested, remember you may have to queue. Please take food and water and continue to be kind to each other and our public health team
  • Everyone should continue to scan QR codes using the Covid Tracer app and turn Bluetooth on to help stop the spread of Covid-19

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