17 Aug 2020

Nine new Covid-19 cases in community today, Bloomfield confirms

2:15 pm on 17 August 2020

There are nine new Covid-19 cases in the community today and none in managed isolation.

Missed the media conference? Watch it here:

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said seven of the new cases were linked to the Auckland cluster, while two were under investigation but believed to be linked to the existing cluster.

That brings that total number of cases under investigation to four.

As of 6pm yesterday, 86 people have been moved to quarantine facilities, consisting of 36 people who have tested positive and their household contacts.

There are five people in hospital - two in Auckland Hospital and three in Middlemore Hospital.

The three in Middlemore were transferred from the Jet Park quarantine facility and were connected to the existing community cluster.

The total number of confirmed cases was now 1280, with 78 active cases. Of the active cases, 58 are related to the community cluster and the remainder were imported cases.

Dr Bloomfield said labs and testing stations were experiencing unprecedented levels of demand and there can be delays of 48 hours in getting results, with the priority to those who are at high risk.

Yesterday, laboratories processed 26,014 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 597,956 of which almost 100,000 were completed in the last six days.

Dr Bloomfield commended people for stepping forward to get tested and help ringfence the existing cluster and cases.

He acknowledged that people were anxiously waiting for their results, but reiterated there was heavy demand and the importance of prioritising those with high risk.

"There may have been slightly longer delays over the weekend because many GPs were shut, because they pass the information through, so my expectation would be that over coming days that wait will drop."

Testing of all government agency frontline workers are either complete or about to be completed, he said.

"Testing at the border for the workforce at airports and ports continue to increase," he said, adding there was now a dedicated testing team at the Ports of Auckland with extended hours.

Over the next few days, a few thousand workers at the Port of Tauranga will be tested, he said.

Dr Bloomfield also confirmed that one of the active cases was a port worker who was followed up as a contact of one the cases linked to the existing cluster.

He said more than 2100 staff working in managed isolation facilities in Auckland have now been tested as of yesterday. Dr Bloomfield clarified that testing of managed isolation staff was already happening, but they were now scaling up those efforts.

"What was scaling up was the size of the teams and frequency with which they could go back to into each facility."

Dr Bloomfield said had been keeping the Minister of Health and Cabinet in the loop on testing of border staff and managed isolation staff.

"There was clearly a dissonance between what the prime minister thought was happening and what was happening on the ground, but that doesn't mean we weren't providing information, it may be in the way that information was communicated.

"Remembering we were in alert level 1, the testing was voluntary and like other New Zealanders, many of those workers didn't necessarily feel there was a need or imperative to get a test, particularly because everyday they were being checked for symptoms including temperature checks."

"I don't think there has been a failure," he says, about the miscommunication on testing of border staff.

Dr Bloomfield said there continued to be contact tracing of positive cases, including follow-ups of casual and close contacts.

Causal contacts - including those who may have been in the same place at the same time as a positive case - should be wary of symptoms but that didn't mean necessarily they were at high risk, he said.

"Some locations of interest over the last two days are: the Botany mall between 1pm and 2pm on 11 August, Buttabean Motivation between 5.15am and 6am on 10 August ... Eden Junior Rugby Club ... between 5.30 and 6.30pm on 11 August and also a guinea pig show at the Auckland Cavy Club on Hall Road between 10am and 2pm on 8 August.

"The important note here is the risk from these locations is invariably low ... this is simply a case of us casting a wide net and to make sure anyone who might have been in these locations is aware and to be aware of symptoms."

In the last 24 hours, 68,100 users registered with the Covid Tracer app, bringing the total number of registered users to 1,442,300.

There were now more than 210,000 QR codes generated, an increase of over 16,000 in the last 24 hours, he said. There were also more than 833,000 poster scans in the last day.

Dr Bloomfield said environmental testing at the Mt Wellington Americold facility will take time to process and results were expected during the week.

"I should say that even if some of those swabs return a positive test, the challenge will be in determining the direction of any contamination that might've occurred and it may be difficult to get any RNA material from those environmental swabs."

Testing results of the Melbourne-based Americold workers were also expected today, he said.

"We still don't have any particular clues as to the origin of the outbreak. Our first focus is on the mapping the extent of it and managing the outbreak, once we have the complete picture we are much more likely to then go back and trace the origin of it.

"We may find some clues as to where, but we may still not quite answer the question of how it was transmitted."

He reminded people that the food safety teams have reviewed evidence around the world and concluded there is no evidence of transmission through contact with frozen goods and packaging.

Yesterday 12 new community cases of Covid-19 were reported, all in Auckland and all connected to existing cases, and one new case in managed isolation.

Today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved the election date to 17 October due to the community outbreak of Covid-19 and says she will not be changing it again.

Follow the latest on RNZ's live blog

She had taken into account the view of all parties' leaders, she said, and factored in what was fair to Māori and Pasifika voters, but ultimately the decision was hers alone.

"The 17th of October, in approximately nine weeks' time, provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the Electoral Commission to prepare, and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and credible election."

"I do not intend to change the election date again."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters welcomed the delay saying he was pleased common sense had prevailed.

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