Urgent NZ search for DJ’s close contacts, second omicron case

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Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins montage
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins (clockwise from top left), seciond omicron community case with Air NZ link, Rhythm and Blues festival, and Waiheke Island. Image: RNZ montage

RNZ News

As some North Island regions moved to the orange traffic light setting at 11.59pm last night, New Zealand has now found two omicron cases that were briefly in the community, and close contacts are urgently being chased up.

As a British DJ outed himself as the omicron community case identified yesterday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday expressed his disappointment in the musician’s non-compliance with rules.

Robert Etheridge, also known as DJ Dimension, went out into the community on December 26 and 27 after 10 days of isolation but before he received his final covid-19 test result.

As such, he has faced abuse online over the matter.

“I want to reiterate my apologies to those who I have inadvertently put at risk as a result of my misunderstandings,” he wrote in an Instagram post.

“I realise the gravity of the situation and I am deeply regretful to those who have been impacted; including members of the public, event organisers and close contacts.”

Etheridge had tested negative to the virus three times before while in isolation. It was also revealed today that he completed his three-day self-isolation period (after seven days in MIQ) on Waiheke Island.

“We understand they travelled by private car and ferry to the island. While on the ferry they did not leave their vehicle and travelled straight to their accommodation.”

DJ Dimension, Robert Etheridge tested positive for the Omicron variant while in the community.
DJ Dimension – Robert Etheridge – tested positive for the omicron variant while in the community. Image: RNZ/Instagram

Race to get to close contacts
The DJ was due to play at Wanaka’s Rhythm and Alps festival but had been forced to pull out, along with another DJ known as Friction and artist Lee Matthews, who were considered close contacts.

Fourteen people who dined with Etheridge at Soul restaurant are also considered close contacts.

Eight of those people remain in Auckland, while six flew to Christchurch where they performed at the Hidden Lakes Festival on December 28. But the Canterbury District Health Board considered the risk to be extremely low.

“All identified close contacts are being urgently contacted by contact tracers,” the Ministry of Health said.

But the exact number of contacts is still being confirmed and identified, according to Hipkins.

He told media today that while Etheridge was on Waiheke Island, he had drinks on the beach with neighbours, who have been told to self-isolate.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the fact that three of the case’s four Waiheke Island housemates had tested negative so far may suggest he was not infectious at the time.

“But again we will just have to await more of those results.”

However, the source of Etheridge’s infection remains a mystery because his case has not been able to be genomically linked to the other omicron cases that were in MIQ when he was there.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said people should be aware that the incubation period for this highly infectious variant could be longer than what they believe.

“It’s just really important that we don’t think that seven days [of isolation] is okay and that people are still cautious … After receiving several negative tests, people could still be incubating the virus and that’s what it shows us.”

Second omicron case
The Ministry of Health yesterday reported there were 60 new community cases of covid-19 and 11 at the border.

Five of the international arrivals came from Australia, two from the United Kingdom, two from Singapore, one from United Arab Emirates, and one from Ethiopia.

Surveillance testing on December 27 of an Air New Zealand crew member has returned a positive result, with genome sequencing finding it is the omicron variant.

Their infection has been genomically linked to three other omicron cases from a December 24 flight that the person worked on between Auckland and Sydney.

New Zealand-based international aircrew are mostly exempt from a 14-day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions.

So far for this case, no locations of interest have been identified, but there are eight close contacts — seven of whom have tested negative so far.

The case was immediately transferred to a MIQ facility.

And with positive cases reaching 33 in Rotorua yesterday, iwi-lead health provider Te Arawa Covid-19 Response Hub is stepping up its testing abilities by training more staff.

Meanwhile, across the Tasman two team players and one staff member of the men’s Wellington Phoenix football have tested positive to the virus. The team is currently based in New South Wales, where cases topped 12,000 today.

‘We need to throw everything we can at it’
In light of the cases, the National Party is calling on the government to allow people to get their booster shot sooner, bring forward the timeline for children’s vaccines, and use more rapid antigen testing.

Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said there were people who had passed four months since their second dose and had been turned away when they tried to get their booster injection.

The booster rollout had been causing some confusion for people and frontline staff. But the Ministry of Health last week clarified that providers could give anyone eligible their booster dose if they had supply.

Meanwhile, the National Māori Authority said it was not too late to introduce tougher border restrictions.

Chairman Matthew Tukaki said the government should shut the borders to anyone who was not a resident or citizen.

“We can’t afford any more unnecessary prolonged lockdowns, so anything we can do to limit the exposure of Omicron until we can get ahead of this, then I think we need to throw everything we can at it.”

Tukaki said the government should also consider extending the amount of time people from high-risk countries spend in MIQ.

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. Off all the people, you allowed a DJ to visit NZ. Very interesting… since residents, people with PR and visa holders are not able to get MIQ spaces. Also a DJ is superior to students as he is able to get a visa whilst the students are kept in the lurch.
    Is the lure of the lucre too strong mate???

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