9 Nov 2020

Covid-19: Testing results to reveal extent of NZ's latest cluster

9:58 am on 9 November 2020

The extent of New Zealand's latest Covid-19 cluster will be revealed today.

The "November quarantine cluster" - as it's being called - started when a quarantine worker at Auckland's Jet Park facility tested positive for the virus on Friday.

Hands in medical gloves holding COVID-19 swab. Test tube for taking patient sample, PCR DNA testing protocol process. Nasal swab laboratory test in hospital lab.

Photo: 123RF

Just one of the 25 close contacts of the quarantine worker has tested positive so far: It's another Defence Force staffer who was in Auckland for work last week.

That person then flew back to Wellington on Thursday, visiting a number of locations within Auckland Airport, and also going to a central Wellington restaurant Friday lunchtime.

The Ministry of Health said it sent notifications to the smartphones of people who used the Covid Tracer app to log in at "several locations of interest" that were visited by the positive case.

Those locations are:

  • Domestic Terminal, Auckland Airport: 5.30pm - 7.45pm, 5 November
  • Avis Car Rental, Auckland Airport: 5.00pm - 5.15pm, 5 November
  • Orleans Chicken & Waffles, Auckland Airport: 5.30 - 7:00pm, 5 November
  • The Gypsy Moth, Auckland Airport: 7.00pm - 7.15pm, 5 November
  • Hudsons, Auckland Airport: 7.00pm - 7.15pm, 5 November
  • Little Penang, The Terrace, Wellington: 1.15pm - 3.45pm, 6 November

Users were advised they may have been in contact with Covid-19, and were told if they began to feel unwell, to contact Healthline.

The Ministry of Health has been working to find and test all close contacts, with results expected to be revealed this afternoon.

Otago University Public Health Professor Michael Baker said those results would show the extent and seriousness of the cluster.

"It all comes down to how many close contacts that person has had.

"One infected person can infect a lot of people... in a cramped indoor environment - that's how the virus transmits very effectively."

While New Zealand's testing and contact tracing systems were working well, the number of outbreaks could be reduced by fine-tuning these systems, Baker said.

"We are sustaining elimination very effectively, so that's the good news. But like any system, it's got multiple layers and these layers fail from time to time.

"When we're seeing a pattern of... seven of these border failures over the last three months, it really should be motivating us to work out how we can reduce that risk.

"Can we reduce the number of infected people arriving from countries where there's a high rate of transmission?"

Baker has called on the government to shift away from the current the 'one size fits all' approach to quarantine.

He is proposing a traffic-light system, with travellers from "red zones" - much of the world where there's uncontrolled transmission of Covid-19 - facing extra barriers before entering New Zealand.

People from high-risk countries, such as the UK, much of Europe and North America, would have to spend three days in quarantine and return a negative test, before they caught a plane to New Zealand. On arrival, they would stay in specially designed quarantine facilities - not hotels.

"In any system when you've got thousands of people in these facilities and thousands of staff, we know mistakes happen.

"Generally we're having very small clusters now, but we know it's in the nature of the virus to occasionally cause very large outbreaks and that's obviously a situation we really want to avoid."

Baker said people from "green zone" or low-risk countries, such as most of Australia and Pacific island nations, should to be able to enter New Zealand without going into quarantine.

For travellers from countries where the spread of the virus is well-controlled - such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore - there would still be a 14-day stay in isolation, but some of it could be done from home.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said about 70,000 people had come through New Zealand's quarantine facilities and only a handful of workers and close contacts had become infected with the virus.

The two people infected in the latest cluster were wearing personal protective equipment, she said.

"We have to be prepared for this to happen, because it's extraordinarily difficult to in every case have a foolfproof, error free response to a virus," Ardern said.

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