18 Aug 2020

Covid-19: What happened in New Zealand on 18 August

8:35 pm on 18 August 2020

Among the many Covid-19 developments today, one has stood out - the case of a worker at an isolation facility who tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend.

The Rydges Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility, in Auckland.

A maintenance worker at Rydges Hotel in Auckland has tested positive for Covid-19. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

There's no evidence the maintenance worker at Rydges Hotel in Auckland had direct contact with the traveller who also carried the same strain of virus.

Genome testing has revealed the worker's case is not linked to the existing Auckland cluster. No other cases linked to this person have been identified to date, the ministry says.

The minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, Megan Woods, says the case isn't linked to any incident, system break-down or wider outbreak at the managed quarantine facility in Auckland where the man worked carrying out maintenance jobs inside rooms.

The details on that case were only revealed today after genetic sequencing linked his case to the same strain of virus found in a woman in managed isolation at the hotel between 28 and 31 July. She had returned from the US, before being transferred to another Auckland quarantine hotel.

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Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"She was a person who stayed in her room for the three days," Woods says.

"To date, there's no obvious evidence of person to person contact between the worker and the returnee, in fact this case highlights how tricky and insidious this virus can be."

The ministry today reported 13 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the community and no new cases in managed isolation facilities. It brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 1293. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is currently 90.

But that development was just one of many today, as the country approaches a full week in raised alert levels.

Late in the day, it was revealed that a First Security guard at an Auckland managed isolation facility is being suspended after releasing personal information of returnees.

They posted an image on 15 August to a private group on Snapchat while on shift at the Sheraton Four Points managed isolation facility.

It contained the names, room numbers and arrival and departure dates of 27 returnees staying at the facility, along with the names and room numbers of five staff members.

Staying with border-related issues, the workplace safety watchdog is stepping in to investigate if quarantine hotels are keeping their staff safe, four months after these workers became a new front line against Covid-19.

WorkSafe is beginning assessments that will cover all isolation facilities.

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WorkSafe is stepping in to investigate if quarantine hotels are keeping their staff safe. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

And fears about how the new coronavirus outbreak got past the border and back into the community is driving rumour, misinformation and online bullying, community leaders are warning.

Pacific Response Coordination Team chairperson Pakilau Manase Lua said the family affected by a false rumour on social media about breaking into a border isolation facility was struggling with what had been written about them.

And that false rumour - well, the person who started it has reportedly been found.

Reporter Dylan Reeves decided to track down the source, and it didn't take him long. Fifteen minutes in fact. Reeves says the man was "regretful and contrite".

The man had taken fragments of rumours he had heard and put them together in a Reddit post.

You can hear more about his actions here.

Last night, the government made a decision to give school principals the option of allowing Year 12 and 13 students back to school early for face to face learning during alert level 3.

Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor was campaigning for it - and pleased with the outcome.

Auckland Grammar Headmaster, Tim O'Connor is hoping successful schools will retain their independence.

Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor. Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

But today, there was backlash.

An Auckland principal said letting schools decide whether some year 12 and 13 pupils should return to class was unnecessary.

Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos said: "We know that our tertiary providers will be flexible in terms of pathways into courses next year. I really don't think the future of our young people is at risk by missing a few extra days of school in Auckland.

"But I'd hate to see our communities at risk if we rush back in and allow these bubbles of 20 in schools."

And Maurie Abraham from the Post Primary Teachers Association's Principals Council said the rule change had surprised and undermined principals.

"A number of us are quite alarmed by the decision... If this was a good idea then it should have been prepared for and it should have been announced last week."

On the education front, a learning assistant at an Auckland central primary school - Mount Roskill - was one of today's new Covid-19 cases.

School principal Mike O'Reilly said he understood the risk of passing on the infection was low because the person was not infectious while at work.

However, the classroom where the person worked is being deep cleaned and staff and students are urged to stay vigilant for any symptoms of the virus.

In more news that has attracted much attention, New Zealand got a mention from US President Donald Trump today.

Trump said while speaking to media: "... you see what's going on in New Zealand. They beat it [the virus], they beat, it was like front page [news] they beat it because they wanted to show me something.

"The problem is [there is a] big surge in New Zealand, you know it's terrible - we don't want that."

That prompted a bit of commentary from New Zealand politicians.

Finally, epidemiologists say New Zealand needs a new, more generic pandemic plan which caters to worst-case scenarios.

The Ministry of Health's national pandemic plan did not properly account for a non-influenza outbreak, and was not fit for purpose, according to experts.

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