16 Jun 2020

Two new Covid-19 cases in NZ visited dying parent - Bloomfield

3:55 pm on 16 June 2020

The two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand were women aged in their 30s and 40s who visited a dying parent in Wellington under compassionate grounds, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

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In a statement released this afternoon, the Ministry of Health said the two new cases were related to the border as a result of recent travel from the UK.

The ministry said both cases were connected, but offered little further information, leaving questions for Dr Bloomfield's media briefing.

Dr Bloomfield said they were both women aged in their 30s and 40s respectively, and were from the same family. They arrived in New Zealand from the UK on 7 June.

"A new case is something we hoped we wouldn't get, but it's also something we expected and have planned for."

They traveled from the UK via Doha and then Brisbane. Australian authorities were contacted to trace people in Australia, Dr Bloomfield said. It was uncertain where they became infected.

One had mild symptoms, the other was symptom free.

As part of their agreed plan under the compassionate circumstances agreement, they were tested in Wellington. Both have since gone into self-isolation in the Wellington region.

  • 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

Dr Bloomfield said they had applied for an exemption on Friday 12 June to visit their dying parent and were allowed to travel to Wellington in a private vehicle to do so the following day, on 13 June. Their parent died that night.

"They were in a managed isolation hotel in Auckland and were permitted on compassionate grounds to leave managed isolation to travel to Wellington via private vehicle."

He said there one only one additional family member who may be at risk, and they were being tested and isolated. Other potential contacts included people on the same flight from Brisbane and people who were in or had been in the same managed isolation facility in Auckland, including staff.

"There was an agreed plan in place as a part of the approval process for the compassionate exemption and that included the travel arrangements."

He said the funeral for the parent would be delayed until family members had completed their next 14-day minimum isolation period.

"The family has asked for their privacy to be respected."

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Staff at the managed isolation facility - the Novotel Ellerslie hotel in Auckland - who had contact with the pair would be stood down and tested, Dr Bloomfield said.

The pair "must have" had a vehicle that was able to make the journey without stopping for fuel, Dr Bloomfield said, and made the journey without using public facilities.

"I won't go into details but there is a lot of empty roadside between here [Wellington] and Auckland."

The new cases followed 24 consecutive days with no new cases in New Zealand, and eight days since the recovery of the last active case.

Dr Bloomfield said the situation exemplified why compassionate exemptions did not extend to funerals or tangihanga where there might be large groups of people.

From now on, people must return a negative result before being allowed an exemption, he said.

"We should not be complacent, we should remain vigilant. There is a pandemic raging outside our shores."

He said there were several hundred New Zealanders entering the country on most days.

"We expected more cases, good thing here is we're maintaining, I believe, what are good rates of testing in the community given we've got very low rates of influenza-like illness in our community."

He said contact tracing was good and this would be a good test for it. Stress testing of the contact tracing system would also begin shortly.

Footage from women's transit through Customs and Immigration at Auckland Airport was also being reviewed, and any staff at the border who were considered possible close contacts would also be stood down and tested.

The new cases bring New Zealand's confirmed cases to 1156, and the combined total of confirmed and probable cases to 1506.

New Zealand has had 22 deaths from the virus.

Health Minister David Clark said the two new cases showed the importance of having strict controls at the border.

He said New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world for a reason.

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