Covid-19: Auckland back to alert level three following new NZ cases

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NZ PM Jacinda Ardern
NZ's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (left) and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today ... the UK variant is proving to be "challenging" with unusual symptoms and spreading further through casual-plus contacts. Image: RNZ News

By RNZ News

Auckland will move to alert level 3 for a week at 6am tomorrow morning after two new covid-19 community cases in New Zealand announced tonight could not be directly linked to earlier cases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.

The rest of the country will move to alert level 2.

A sibling of a Papatoetoe High School student, who was a casual plus contact of the recent Auckland community cases, tested positive for covid-19.

Speaking at the briefing at 9pm, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the new case was a 21-year-old man.

Preliminary test results show three household members are negative and another member – the mother – has a positive test result that indicated early infection.

The man’s symptoms began on February 23, with a fever and weakness, then loss of taste and smell the next day.

Ardern said the link to the high school could provide a straightforward link, but in this case it had not since the student had previously tested negative.

Linked to cluster?
Genome sequencing is underway. Ardern said officials strongly assumed this case would be linked to the cluster.

“However, as we all know so well, if what we cannot immediately link a case person to person, what we call an epidemiological link, that is a significant issue and one we need to act on.”

Today’s New Zealand covid update briefing. Video: RNZ News

Ardern said the second cause of concern was because the person was possibly unknowingly infectious for as long as a week without isolation.

“There are a number of high risk locations involved with this case,” she said, including a supermarket, a gym, and the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Given the time that has passed by for the onset of symptoms, “we may well have close contacts who are already infected”.

Ardern said they were assuming this case had the more infectious variant of the virus.

Dr Bloomfield said the UK variant was proving to be “challenging” with unusual symptoms and spreading further through casual-plus contacts.

He said local health authorities were undertaking interviews to investigate how the case may have been infected.

The person’s airport work is not believed to have any interactions with the airside or contact with potentially infected people, Bloomfield said.

He said it was likely the transmission route was via Papatoetoe High School.

Alert level changes
Ardern said Cabinet met this evening and made the decision Auckland would move to alert level 3 for seven days, while the rest of the country would go to level 2. From 6am tomorrow, the alert level changes will kick in.

She said Cabinet would assess the alert levels along the way, but it was likely Auckland would be in alert level 3 for the full seven days.

Aucklanders are asked to stay at home, in their bubbles other than for essential movement. Those who can work from home are asked to do so.

If people go outside, they should maintain physical distancing. Children have been asked to stay home from school in Auckland, although for essential worker parents who need to be at work, they will remain open.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and primary produce stories can remain open. Ardern urged people not to rush to supermarkets.

Businesses that normally operate on face-to-face basis are now asked to move to non-contact methods like click and collect or online ordering, she said.

Public venues will be closed, including playgrounds, libraries, cinemas, gyms, pools and markets. Gatherings outside people’s bubbles is prohibited with the exception of groups of 10 for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga.

Public health measures
Public health measures will still need to be maintained in these events.

All sports games will need to be cancelled, including Sunday’s Auckland Round the Bays.

Inter-regional travel will be restricted. Those who are vulnerable with pre-existing conditions and older people are encouraged to stay at home where possible and take extra precautions where possible.

Aucklanders are asked to wear masks when they leave their house.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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