27 Feb 2021

Covid-19: Auckland back to alert level three after new community cases revealed

10:40 pm on 27 February 2021

Auckland will move to alert level 3 for a week at 6am tomorrow morning after two new Covid-19 community cases announced this evening could not be directly linked to earlier cases, the prime minister has confirmed.

The rest of the country will move to alert level 2.

Watch the PM's latest briefing here:

A sibling of a Papatoetoe High School student, who was a casual plus contact of the recent Auckland community cases, tested positive for Covid-19.

Speaking at the briefing at 9pm, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the new case is a 21-year-old man. Preliminary test results show three household members are negative and another member - the mother - has a positive test result that indicated early infection.

The man's symptoms began on 23 Febraury, with a fever and weakness, then loss of taste and smell the next day.

Ardern said the link to the high school could provide a straightforward link, but in this case it had not since the student previously tested negative.

Genome sequencing is underway. Ardern said officials strongly assume this case will be linked to the cluster.

"However, as we all know so well, if what we cannot immediately link a case person to person, what we call an epidemiological link, that is a significant issue and one we need to act on."

She said the second cause of concern was because the person was possibly unknowingly infectious for as long as a week without isolation.

"There are a number of high risk locations involved with this case," she said, including a supermarket, a gym, and the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Given the time that has passed by for the onset of symptoms, "we may well have close contacts who are already infected".

Ardern said they were assuming this case had the more infectious variant of the virus.

Bloomfield said the UK variant was proving to be "challenging" with unusual symptoms and spreading further through casual-plus contacts.

Bloomfield said local health authorities were undertaking interviews to investigate how the case may have been infected.

The person's airport work is not believed to have any interactions with the airside or contact with potentially infected people, Bloomfield said.

He said it was likely the transmission route was via Papatoetoe High School.

Alert level changes

Ardern said Cabinet met this evening and made the decision Auckland will move to alert level 3 for seven days, while the rest of the country will go to level 2. From 6am tomorrow, the alert level changes will kick in.

She said Cabinet would do assess the alert levels along the way, but it's likely Auckland would be in alert level 3 for the full seven days.

Aucklanders are asked to stay at home, in their bubbles other than for essential movement. Those who can work from home are asked to do so. If you go outside, maintain physical distancing. Children are asked to stay home from school in Auckland, although for essential worker parents who need to be at work, they will be open.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and primary produce stories can remain open. Ardern urged people not to rush to supermarkets.

Businesses that normally operate on face-to-face basis are now asked to move to non-contact methods like click and collect or online ordering, she said.

Public venues will be closed, including playgrounds, libraries, cinemas, gyms, pools and markets. Gatherings outside people's bubbles is prohibited with the exception of groups of 10 for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Public health measures will still need to be maintained in these events.

All sports games will need to be cancelled, including tomorrow's Auckland Round the Bays.

Inter-regional travel will be restricted. Those who are vulnerable with pre-existing conditions and older people are encouraged to stay at home where possible and take extra precautions where possible.

Aucklanders are asked to wear masks when they leave their house.

"Some will ask whether we should have stayed in level 3 from the 14 February right up until this day today. That was not what the evidence required and therefore it was also not the advice we were given."

She said with more than 100,000 tests since the community case on 14 February, wastewater testing showing up negative, Papatoetoe High School mass testing and stringent contact tracing and isolating measures, it was not deemed necessary at the time to extend alert levels.

She urged people to promptly act as if they're in level 3 once they hear the announcement, but they are realistic about it taking effect in the morning.

Breach of isolation rules

Dr Bloomfield said the information he had was that the person had the Covid-19 test then went to a gym afterwards.

Ardern said she was confident that the person was aware of the isolation advice.

"Obviously in this case, despite that communication over what was expected, that has not occurred here. We have a test though and ultimately we need that test to make sure we are not putting other people at risk."

She said part of the complication was that some people who were meant to be in isolation, did not follow the rules and that was a contributing factor to the change in alert levels.

"But there is no doubt that a contributing factor to the issue we are now facing is that the guidelines and rules have not always been followed. People who should have been in isolation weren't, that has created multiple high-risk situations. I say that not to place blame ... no-one asked for Covid-19," she said.

"We just need to hang in there.

"To every New Zealander listening right now, I know how frustrated you will feel, but ultimately as Dr Bloomfield has always said it is the virus that is the problem - we still need an environment where people will speak, come forward and be tested and if people are afraid and they are shamed and vilified, they won't."

She said an added complication in dealing with this cluster was that it involved young people, although she added that was not an excuse.

Bloomfield encouraged people with symptoms and those who were at locations of interest to get a test, especially younger people who may put down their symptoms to other issues.

"There may be infected people from those exposure events and we need to prevent those people from going on and infecting others."

Ardern said she did not want to create an environment where someone who has made mistakes gets so pilloried that no one else wants to get tested.

Those required to isolate or get tested are eligible for payment by the government, she said.

The ministry is urging people to only call Healthline if they were potentially exposed.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Business support

Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed that the wage subsidy scheme will kick in now that Auckland is set to go into level 3 for seven days.

"It will apply nationwide," he said. It would be paid out in 14-day lot sums.

The amount of money available in the scheme remains the same - $585 per week subsidy for a full time worker or $350 for a part-time worker.

More information on the process of applications will be available tomorrow.

The period that will be used to compare whether applicants need the scheme will be a typical fornight period in the six weeks prior to the lockdown.

Businesses can receive both the wage subsidy scheme and the Resurgence Support Payment.

He reiterated approval that was granted for movement across the Auckland boundary for business purposes a couple of weeks ago will now roll over into this period and people do not need to reapply.

The Ministry of Social Development continues to provide support for families involved with Papatoetoe High School, he said.

"It is recognition that there are some families for whom a disruption like this will cause them significant concern about whether or they'll be able to access food."

He reiterated that payments are available for those who need to test and isolate.

The estimate for the total amount of business support for this period across country is $400-$500 million, he said.

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