Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland to level 2, rest of NZ to level 1 – despite another new Covid case

Auckland will move to alert level 2 at midnight today, despite a third new community case of Covid-19 being announced today.

The rest of the country will move to alert level 1. The alert levels will be reviewed again on Monday.

The Prime Minister has just made the announcement at a press conference alongside director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Cabinet met this afternoon to review alert level settings this afternoon, she said, before handing over to Bloomfield without providing further details.

A third member of the household who tested positive last weekend had also just tested positive, Bloomfield said.

There are five people in the household.

Bloomfield said it was “reassuring” all the new cases were linked and were identified through contact tracing.

They have been in isolation since Monday.

Bloomfield said “we should be encouraged” that all five cases have clear epidemiological links.

The new cases are being interviewed at home in “strict isolation” and the Health Ministry will release more locations of interest this afternoon.

Worked at McDonald's

One of today’s cases was a McDonald’s worker, Bloomfield confirmed.

Contact tracers are still establishing when they were at work. The person has not had any symptoms, said Bloomfield.

Ardern said Cabinet knew where the person worked and factored it into their decision.

Bloomfield said the two new cases at Papatoetoe High School were not at school when the were infectious but it will remain closed until Monday.

All students and staff will need a negative test result before returning to school.

Testing will remain open at the school so everyone can be tested.

Nearly 80 per cent of students at the school have tested negative, but there are still 363 tests outstanding.

Bloomfield reminded Aucklanders that health services were still open.

Next alert level review on Monday

Ardern said the latest restrictions will be reviewed on Monday.

Her expectation was if the country is in a similar position on Monday, it was likely there’ll be another drop in alert levels.

Ardern said the evidence suggested there wasn’t a widespread outbreak but a small chain of transmission.

There will still be some restrictions for people connected to Papatoetoe High School.

She reminded Aucklanders that gatherings were limited to 100 people, masks must be worn on public transport, hospitality venues could reopen with the restrictions and weekend sports could happen with the public health measures in place.

“If you are sick, please stay home – this cotinues to be one of our most important messages.”

“There is every chance we will find further cases.”

Ardern said perfection when dealing with a virus is “very, very difficult” and they tried to put as many filters in place to prevent leakages.

She said if Aucklanders followed the rules at the weekend Cabinet would be in a better position to make their decision on Monday.

All Auckland businesses who’ve expected a 30 per cent drop in revenue will be eligible for the Covid Support Scheme.

Ardern said the outstanding test results were casual contacts which they didn’t expect to have positive results.

Ardern said the level 3 lockdown had been necessary because it was “much, much better” to be cautious than try to stamp out a widespread outbreak.

Not fully out of the woods, says Goff

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the move to alert level 2 for Auckland but urged people to continue following precautions.

“I want to thank Aucklanders for their efforts over the last few days. I know it has not been easy.

“However, today’s cases show us a short sharp lockdown was necessary to hit this outbreak on the head. We are not fully out of the woods yet, so we need to be cautious.

“The vital thing now is for people to continue scanning their QR codes and get tested if they are feeling unwell.”

Aucklanders should “take their alert level with them” if they leave the city, Ardern said.

Bloomfield said they were “quite comfortable” with the levels of negative tests at the high school and if anyone connected to that wanted another test they were able to do so.

Mask use on public transport across New Zealand will be required “for now”. Cabinet had not yet decided whether to mandate it indefinitely, said Ardern.

The decision on mandating mask use for all of New Zealand will likely happen at the same time they decide whether to mandate Covid Tracer scanning.

Level 2 rules

* People can still go to work

* Schools and daycare remain open

* Gatherings restricted to 100 people

* Public and hospitality venues can open, and sports are allowed, subject to limits on gathering numbers and other provisions

* Social distancing in public with strangers required

Schools welcome decision

Auckland schools are welcoming the decision to reopen schools from tomorrow despite three new Covid cases in the Papatoetoe High School community.

Auckland Secondary School Principals’ Association president Steve Hargreaves said he expects a mixed response from parents.

“The vast majority will be pleased and will rush back, and there will be a section of our community that will be a bit more hesitant for these two days [Thursday and Friday],” he said.

“That’s understandable, and we will make work available for those students to do at home.”

Hargreaves said the level 2 rules meant that schools could operate normally as long as they are careful about hygiene.

“We’ll have a few restrictions around sharing of food. We have facilities for students to make lunches. They will close. We’ll close the water fountains.”

Schools are exempted from the broader level 2 limit of 100 people in social gatherings, but Hargreaves said his school, Macleans College, would not hold assemblies this week to be safe.

Hospitality challenges

Hospitality in Auckland would face challenges under alert level 2 but operators would welcome news of the Covid resurgence subsidy payment, North Shore bar and restaurant operator Kevin Schwass said.

“Level 2’s a bit weird because a lot of people don’t want to come out because of the restrictions,” said Schwass, owner of Florrie McGreal’s Irish Pub in Takapuna.

Customers under Level 2 must be seated, practice physical distancing, and only have one server per table.

Dancefloors are off-limits and patrons cannot stand around tables.

He said for gastropubs, the bar business was as important as the food business, so these restrictions would impact revenue.

“I guess the pleasing thing is that there will be a wage subsidy. Most hospitality businesses would qualify for that easily.”

The supplementary payment applied to companies which could demonstrate a 30 per cent revenue drop over a seven-day period.

Expert's reaction

Otago University infectious diseases expert Professor David Murdoch said the decision showed officials felt the extent of the potential spread had been contained.

“[It shows] there is confidence that all of the close contacts are either being tested or contained at the moment.”

But there was still some concern and uncertainty, he said, given there were still test results to come in, and the source of the scare remained unknown.

“I think it will be a cautious and probably nervous time over the next few days as we see the rest of the results – and hopefully we don’t have any more cases.”

The announcement came after two new Covid-19 cases were found in the community and announced earlier today.

One of the two cases confirmed earlier this afternoon was a close contact of case A – the daughter who was confirmed Covid-19 positive with her father and mother on Sunday. They went to Papatoetoe High School together. The second new confirmed case is a sibling of the first.

The source of the family’s infection is still a mystery.

Health officials have been racing to trace the contacts of the two students. Interviews were continuing with the latest infected pupils, the Ministry said in its Covid update at 1pm.

ESR testing of wastewater has so far found “no evidence of any community cases of Covid-19”, the Ministry of Health said.

Case investigation and contact tracing for the latest cases were under way.

As at 11.30am, 31 close contacts and 1523 casual plus contacts had been identified at Papatoetoe High School.

Contact tracing had identified 128 close contacts associated with the original family at the centre of the Covid outbreak. Of these, one had tested positive (one of today’s new cases), 76 had tested negative, and 49 results were still being analysed.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins compared the new cases with the Northland community case in January.

“We have managed cases like this before, that have popped up in the community, without having to change alert levels,” he told media.

Hipkins added that Cabinet will be looking “very closely” at if there is anything additional that needed to be factored into the decision.

Cabinet was scheduled to meet from 3pm to determine the fate of Auckland’s level-3 lockdown and the rest of New Zealand’s alert-level 2.

The alert levels are due to expire at 11.59pm tonight – after two days of zero community cases, the two cases announced today will be weighing on ministers’ minds.

Speaking to reporters before going into the House, Ardern said a major element of what Cabinet will be considering is the fact one of the contacts was considered “close”.

“Obviously, then it’s not surprising to us if we get a positive test result – those are individuals we have asked to isolate.”

The sibling who also tested positive was already in self-isolation when they tested positive.

National leader Judith Collins said that whether or not the alert level settings are extended is a “call for the Government”.

“We’re all very disappointed to hear that there are two more community cases.”

She pointed out that there is still a lot more testing to come back but National was going to “wait and see what the Government comes up with”.

Auckland was moved to alert level 3 at midnight on Sunday after three new Covid-19 cases were detected in the community. The rest of the country was put in alert level 2.

Until this morning, there had been no additional community cases detected, which had been “heartening” for Ardern and Hipkins.

But speaking to the Health Select Committee this morning, Hipkins revealed health officials had found two new cases after mass testing.

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