25 Jan 2021

Dr Ashley Bloomfield details response to Northland Covid-19 community case

8:16 pm on 25 January 2021

There is no need for a regional lockdown in Northland after a woman travelled across the region infected with a highly-infectious variant of Covid-19, the country's top health official says.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield

director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, also told Checkpoint people had shown up at testing stations across Northland today who didn't need to be there, putting a strain on resources.

His comments come as officials scour CCTV footage of common rooms in the Pullman Hotel to determine how the virus was passed between the woman and another returnee during managed isolation.

The woman contracted Covid-19 after testing negative twice during her stay at the Pullman Hotel and subsequently visited 30 venues with her husband, including supermarkets, cafes and shops.

She was confirmed with the South African variant today, an exact match to another returnee who was on the same floor as her.

However, Dr Bloomfield said was no need to put Northland on regional lockdown or restrict travel while it was determined whether the woman had infected others.

"There's nothing to suggest that there is any onward transition at this point in Northland," he said.

"I think we are exercising much more caution than we have in the past, in the sense that we are asking everybody who was at any of those 30 venues at the same time to get tested and many of them will have had no obvious contact with the person.

"The second thing is, we know from the testing that the results of the Northland case's two close contacts - one her partner who she spent a lot of time with over that time, he's returned a negative test and so that's reassuring."

Hundreds queued for hours outside testing stations after discovering they had been at those venues during the time the woman had been there.

Some waited more than seven hours and many criticised what they saw as lack of allocated resources and organisation in the North, given the community case had come to light yesterday.

Others described the situation as chaos, with hundreds waiting in car parks and queuing in sweltering heat, without access to toilets or water.

However, Dr Bloomfield said there were people queuing needlessly putting undue pressure on resources at testing centres.

"Certainly there was a report from Northland today that there people there who weren't symptomatic, or who weren't at the venues and they were not people who needed a test today," he said.

"You can imagine the teams are working as fast as they can and there are a number of facilities that have been set-up today to try and get everybody who needs to be tested, tested quickly."

There was a four-day crossover in managed isolation between a returnee with the South African Covid-19 strain and the Northland woman they passed on the virus to.

Genome testing indicated it was a direct transmission, but exactly how it happened remains a mystery.

The person returned a positive result for Covid-19 after a day-three test taken in their room, but that person had been allowed to move around the hotel before they got the result.

Dr Bloomfield says they are still working out how and when when the pair crossed paths, but that the incident did not suggest a systemic failure of managed-isolation protocol.

"They don't have to stay in their room while awaiting a day-three test, but of course their movements are carefully and very regulated, only being taken out for exercise and so on, with strict infection prevention," he said.

Health staff investigating were keeping an open mind.

"It could have been a common surface that they touched... or some sort of aerosolisation in the air and potentially even through the ventilation system. So all of those are things we will be looking at," Dr Bloomfield said.

The incident would not prompt health officials to rethink policy on restricting people to their rooms at facilities after one-day testing, he added.

"It's very very rigourously overseen, so we think those risks can be managed at this point, we don't think there is a need to confirm people to their rooms."

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