According to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, there are no new positive Covid-19 cases in the community in New Zealand today.
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Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield are providing the latest information surrounding the visit to Wellington of a Sydney man with Covid-19.
It is still unclear whether the Sydney man has the Delta variant of Covid-19.
But Bloomfield says the follow-up tests of the two close contacts in Palmerston North have returned negative.
When asked about the possibility that the Sydney man – who notably was vaccinated – may be one of those who are less likely to spread the virus, Hipkins says: “We can hope for that outcome but we can’t work on the assumption that that’s what the outcome is going to be.”
Hipkins also reveals that wastewater testing shows Covid-19 has not been detected in Wellington, the Hutt Valley or Porirua.
He says a total of 10,749 tests were processed yesterday, 3713 of those in Wellington.
Wellington is now on day two of alert level 2 which will last until at least 11.59pm on Sunday.
Hipkins says testing demand remains high and as announced last night a new testing station has opened today at the Te Papa car park.
Demand at the Taranaki Street station is also still high, he says.
“If you know someone who was at a location of interest but you yourself were not at a location of interest, you do not need to test and isolate but we do ask that you monitor your health and if you get symptoms call Healthline for advice on whether you need to get a test.”
People should remain vigilant including the people on 195 Air NZ flights that left Wellington over the weekend and on Monday, Hipkins says.
“If we all follow the public health guidance it will help to keep us all safe.”
Cabinet is set to meet on Sunday morning to assess the latest evidence and consider alert level changes.
Hipkins says the Sunday Cabinet meeting will be solely about the possibility of changing the current alert level 2 in Wellington.
In the meantime, quarantine-free travel between New South Wales and New Zealand has been suspended.
On case numbers, there are two new cases in recent returnees in managed isolation facilities.
Bloomfield reiterated that anyone around the country who was at any of the locations of interest at the relevant points of time or who has symptoms should seek a test.
“It is very important that people ring and book ahead,” he says.
He says there was a slight amendment to the locations of interest at Wellington Airport this morning. Anyone who visited the men’s toilets on level 1 at the north end of the main terminal adjacent to the food store, between 9.15 and 9.30am should isolate and seek advice about how to book a test.
He reminded people who are being asked to isolate that they are legally mandated to do so.
On contact tracing and as of 8am this morning, 1752 people have been identified as contacts and are in the national contact-tracing database.
Some 550 of those are required to isolate for 14 days and be tested at least twice.
So far, of the 1752 contacts, 532 have returned a negative result, eight have returned overseas and for 1212 are awaiting a test result due to the requirement to get tested after day five since potential exposure.
Bloomfield also reminded people that for those outside the Wellington region “alert level 1 is not alert level none”.
Hipkins says he is encouraged by what they are seeing so far, but says it is still early days.
On the trans-Tasman bubble, Hipkins says now that there are two cases in Melbourne they are keeping a “very close watch” on developments.
He says New South Wales (NSW) has a very strong contact tracing system and leans heavily on that, and because of that may be more reluctant to impose heavier lockdown restrictions.
He says it’s not necessarily the case that New Zealanders will be able to return 14 days after the pause. He says it’s a case-by-case basis and with Victoria the public health advice aligned.
“I can’t guarantee that it will be the same with NSW because their situation might be different to the one Victoria found itself in.”
He notes there is space set aside in MIQ specifically for trans-Tasman bubble contingencies.
Bloomfield says everyone who has travelled from Sydney since their outbreak started has been emailed since their arrival in New Zealand. Anyone who has been in a location of interest is required to get a test and isolate.
“We are certainly still in that period where there is that increased risk,” Hipkins says.
According to Bloomfield, the figures at the moment indicate that around 100 persons were present in the two bars at the relevant periods. Some will be required to isolate for 14 days and be tested, while the remainder will be required to isolate and be tested. Those who have been to either bar should now understand what they need to do.
According to Hipkins, patronage at hospitality establishments appears to have been reduced on that Saturday night due of the exceptionally poor weather.
Bloomfield said they don’t have exact data on how many individuals were called as a result of Bluetooth contact tracing via the app right now. He assures them that the information will be obtained.
He says of the 550 people required to isolate for 14 days, 248 – 45 percent – have returned a negative result as of this morning. Of those who are required to isolate only until they get a negative result, 282 have returned a negative result (just under 24 percent).
Hipkins says in some ways the possibility of the person having the Delta variant has in some ways not changed the approach because in New Zealand, authorities have always assumed that Covid-19 is very infectious. He says the ultra-cautious approach still applies.
Bloomfield clarifies that the Delta variant is known through evidence from the UK to be considerably more infectious, and seems to affect younger people more than the earlier variants, but New Zealand’s approach – shutting down any infection – has not changed.
On making QR code scanning mandatory, Hipkins says he’s looked regularly over the last year at the possibility of it, but there are some big logistical hurdles including how it would be enforced and the additional compliance requirements that would impose further burdens on small businesses.
“It’s something that we’ve looked at several times and at this point I’m not convinced that it would necessarily help us or increase the uptake of QR codes.”
“As well as taking a very cautious approach when it comes to Covid-19 we’re also mindful of not asking people to do things where there’s not a good public health reason for it.”
On the Cook Islands travel bubble, Hipkins says they have not directly raised concerns with New Zealand about continuing to allow travel with Australia at this point – or at least not that he is aware of.
Hipkins noted before that he is approaching a year as the minister in charge of the Covid-19 response. He claims that has “There was never a boring moment throughout that period. With Covid-19, every day is unique. Covid-19 doesn’t stop, and as a result, I haven’t either throughout that time span.”
When asked if New Zealanders have gotten complacent about the risk, he says they have, but that does not imply they are no longer alert.
He said that if a statement is required tomorrow, it will be given, but that the goal at this time is for a written statement. After a decision on alert levels is made, they plan to issue a live announcement on Sunday.