Northland will move to alert level 3 restrictions from 11:59pm tonight, New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister has confirmed.
Minister Chris Hipkins held a briefing at Parliament on the situation in Northland this evening.
The new restrictions will remain in place until 11.59pm Tuesday and will be reviewed at Cabinet on Monday.
Hipkins said the move was necessary following new information on the risk presented by a positive case initially tested in Whangārei earlier this week and confirmed in Auckland yesterday. The woman was now in an Auckland managed isolation quarantine facility.
“Updated information provided by the police today shows the case moved extensively around Northland after travelling there on October 2,” Hipkins said.
He said it was believed she did not travel alone and travelled with another woman, who was not yet in MIQ.
“We believe this new information warrants an alert level change decision to keep Northland people safe,” he said.
“It has also been taken because the individual has not been cooperative with contact tracing efforts.”
He said the woman had not supplied the reason for being in Northland.
Watch the news briefing
Video: RNZ News
“It has been very difficult to get information about this particular case,” Hipkins said.
“The first test result we had was what you could describe as an indeterminate test result, so it was quite difficult to locate the person.
“The information that they supplied when they were tested the first time did not provide sufficent information to be able to contact them with the test result and get them back to be tested.
“It took some time to track them down, the police ultimately were able to assist there and did help to track the person down.”
Hipkins said he understood the woman obtained a document by providing false information to leave Auckland but this was yet to be verified. When it was discovered and revoked they were already in Auckland.
The first locations of interest for Northland have been added to the Ministry of Health’s website.
They include BP Connect Wylies petrol station and the Z Kensington service station in Whangārei.
Northland vaccination rates low
Hipkins said another factor taken into account was that vaccination rates in Northland were low compared to the national average.
“Without placing restrictions on movement there is a possibility that the virus could spread quite rapidly within the community.”
It is one of the least-vaccinated regions – just two thirds of residents have had their first Pfizer dose.
“Cases spreading at alert level 2 are a risk we cannot take, but it’s also further reason why we need to really focus on vaccinations,” said Hipkins. “Without high vaccination rates we will need to continue to use restrictions to stop the virus spreading.
“I have two things to ask of Northlanders. First, if you have any cold and flu like symptoms please come forward and get a test as soon as possible.”
“The second request that I have and I can’t stress this enough, is please get vaccinated. These cases do highlight the risk of Covid-19 to the unvaccinated anywhere in the country.
“Now is the time to be vaccinated.”
Northlanders ‘stay in bubble’
Hipkins reminded Northlanders that alert level 3 meant they had to stay in their bubble and stay at home.
“Don’t go and visit family, friends and neighbours, this is a virus that can spread quite quickly and that is part of the way it spreads.”
Speaking to RNZ Checkpoint after the announcement, Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said she was “actually quite grumpy”.
“We’ve got a person who really has done everything that they should not do. And they’ve impacted on all of Northland as a result.
“I was giving the person the benefit of the doubt earlier today. Now I’m just ropeable.”
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said without full cooperation with contact tracers, public health staff are reliant on swabbing and wastewater results to track the virus’ spread.
Professor Baker said the Te Tai Tokerau situation was “really concerning” and the lockdown “had to be done”.
With Northland entering level 3, Auckland in a level 3 with benefits, and Waikato in level 3 restrictions, he told Checkpoint there needed to be clarity on what strategy New Zealand was pursuing against covid-19.
“We’ve actually had very confused messages this week about a number of things, including what comes after elimination, which we seem to be transitioning out of. That hasn’t been made clear,” he said.
“Also how are we going to use the alert level system? Because Auckland is using a stepped approach, they’re stepping up. The rest of the country’s got alert levels and is stepping down. There’s also a version of a traffic light system that’s been proposed circulating at the moment.
“So I think this week has really been quite poor for clarity of communication and coherence.
“The government really has to sort out where we’re going. And one of the approaches I think we should look at would actually be a regional approach.”
Professor Baker said suppression could be pursued in Auckland while an elimination strategy could work in the South Island.
There were 44 new cases of Covid-19 reported in the community today, including three in Waikato.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.