No new community cases, 16,000 tests processed yesterday – Hipkins

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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.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said two new cases were found in managed isolation and quarantine, and one of those was a historical case.

Hipkins and Dr Bloomfield were speaking at the latest 1pm Covid-19 update, with the weekly Wednesday focus on the vaccine rollout.

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

Hipkins says tests are still coming in however, and “we’re still in the critical period … we’re not quite there yet” in terms of being certain the latest cluster has not spread further.

He says Cabinet will be looking at whether there are any additional cases and what other warning signs or risk factors are out there before making a decision on alert levels.

Friday’s Cabinet meeting will be the earliest that alert level will be considered, he says.

Vaccines

As of midnight last night, 9431 people have received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, including over half of our Covid-19 frontline border workers, Hipkins says.

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

The government had received its third batch of the Pfizer vaccine this week, he says. 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.

Supply will continue to be a challenge, he says.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is still a very long one,” he says. “We’re still going to have to do the hard yards over the next year.”

There’s no timeline for the approval from Medsafe but when he has more information he will share it.

Dr Bloomfield says the Jannsen and AstraZeneca vaccines are still in the pipeline, with Jannsen to be the next closest one.

He says information about the vaccine had been translated into 24 different languages, and the vaccine is considered both kosher and halal-friendly.

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.

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He says they are making the most of every vaccine they have.

Hipkins says the next group of people to be offered the vaccine will be non-border frontline health workers – around 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 says.

“We have made a very strong start.”

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

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

Contact tracing

Bloomfield says between 14 and 26 February, 87 percent 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 says 11 community-based testing centres are open again today in Auckland, many of which are in South or East Auckland. GPs are also open.

While waiting for Covid-19 test results, Bloomfield reiterated that people must remain in isolation until they get their results.

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

Communications, messaging and bullying

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

Hipkins says clear guidance was sent to all of the families of the school on 17 February that everybody in the households should get a test, and more info was sent out on 19 February.

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

Hipkins says there was enough info for them not to have gone into work and that was the point the PM was making.

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

Dr Bloomfield says the key point is that anyone who is symptomatic should get a test quickly.

He also reminded people who are close contacts that they must remain isolating at home until they are released by health officials.

He also said people who were symptomatic should seek a test quickly, and should remain in isolation until the test is returned.

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

“We want people who make mistakes to come forward,” he says. “We should be showing kindness to people who are coming forward.”

Dr Bloomfield says communication from the school was really good.

Developments in the past day

It has come to light that Destiny Church leaders Hannah and Brian Tamaki left Auckland overnight on Sunday after the Prime Minister announced a level three lockdown in the city.

Hipkins says that was “completely irresponsible”.

Bloomfield says they would not be the only people who left Auckland on the eve of alert level 3.

The National Party has today been calling for the government to pay full wages directly to those who are isolating at home.

Hipkins says he does not know where National expects the money to come from.

“We are spreading financial support as widely as we can to those who need it the most so we can all get through this.”

On the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup being postponed, Hipkins says it was a sensible decision.

The Ministry of Health this morning confirmed to RNZ it was in “active discussions” with Auckland company Datamine about whether its phone app might be used in the country’s Covid-19 response.

The government is looking at whether returnees and border workers should use the app, which is said to detect Covid-19 two or three days before symptoms set in.

Hipkins told Morning Report the bluetooth CovidCard being trialled last year “wasn’t hugely successful” and did not add anything that the bluetooth functionality on people’s phones could not do more reliably.

The government first ordered trials of the bluetooth tracing technology in August, the latest trial finishing in December at the Bay Plaza MIQ facility.

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There were no new community cases reported on Tuesday, and four in managed isolation.

This is an official government Covid-19 announcement:

On 28 February, the Auckland region moved to Covid-19 Alert Level 3. The rest of New Zealand moved to Alert Level 2. This is for a period of seven days. Further community cases of Covid-19 have been identified in the Auckland Region. If you are in Auckland, stay home where possible, and follow Alert Level 3 guidelines. This will stop the transmission of Covid-19 and save lives. For more information on the alert levels go to covid19.govt.nz.

RNZ is the statutory Lifeline Utility responsible for radio broadcasting under the Emergency Management Act 2002 and it has a memorandum of understanding with Government which has been activated to help deal with potential health issues related to the pandemic. RNZ’s Lifeline Utility obligations do not affect our editorial independence as a public media organisation or the rigour of our news gathering and reporting operations.

As New Zealand’s Lifeline Utility radio broadcaster, RNZ is required to maintain essential public information channels and news during times of national emergency and we are committed to supporting all New Zealanders. We are also committed to looking after the health and well-being of our staff.

RNZ will continue to provide essential information services – broadcasting and publishing critical public service announcements on air, on our website and via social media channels. Comprehensive news will be available on air and via our website and digital services.

If necessary RNZ Concert and RNZ Pacific will carry news and information from RNZ National. Parliament will continue to be broadcast on the AM network when the House is sitting. As the country’s public service media organisation, RNZ is committed to supporting all New Zealanders.

Kia Kaha – Stay Strong

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