20 Aug 2020

Six new cases of Covid-19 in NZ today - five in community, one imported case

6:20 am on 20 August 2020

There are six new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has confirmed.

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Five are in the community and related to the Auckland cluster and one is an imported case.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the imported case is a woman in her 50s who arrived from Qatar via Sydney on 14 August and has been in the Sudima Hotel.

There are 125 people from the community who have been moved into Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 61 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

He says there are five people in hospital, one in Auckland City and four in Middlemore.

The Ministry of Health reiterated that people with Covid-19 receiving hospital care were isolated and managed carefully, and reassured people needing to use the hospitals or ambulance that it was safe.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there are no additional cases related to the Rydges Hotel maintenance worker who tested positive for Covid-19.

That brings the total number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand to 1299.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said 23,038 tests were processed yesterday. He reminds people to only be tested if they are symptomatic, have come in contact with a case or are concerned they have.

He says the person who visited Pak 'n' Save Glen Innes, mentioned yesterday, only visited once and the person is considered low risk - therefore the contacts there are considered low risk.

Genomic sequencing complete on Rydges Hotel worker's case

The full genome sequencing and matching in the case of a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel who tested positive for the virus, has been complete. The worker's case is not believed to be linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

The ministry says the strain was the genome type called clabe B1 - one commonly seen in the US.

There have been four positive cases in New Zealand with the virus with this genomic sequence, but the full sequencing now confirms the closest match is with the July 31 returnee from the US.

Investigations on how the worker became infected are ongoing.

Earlier, experts suggested that serology tests be used to help figure out whether there was a missing third link in the case.

In response, the ministry says they are looking into how they can use these in the most systematic, efficient and effective manner.

However, it says while serology testing of contacts may provide another piece in the puzzle, it will only tell us someone has been exposed to the virus, not which strain.

It also says that these tests have already been conducted in this cluster, particularly in households to see if anyone else has had the virus.

Ardern's announcements

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says things as they are today are encouraging.

"The perimeter of the virus is not expanding exponentially."

However, she says the border testing has not been executed at the scale and speed necessary. She has announced a small team that will support health to stand-up the comprehensive testing strategy.

Dr Brian Roche is part of this new small team.

The government will deploy around 500 extra Defence Force personnel into the quarantine facilities.

There will now be 19 Defence Force personnel in each isolation facility.

Ardern says MBIE is looking at directly employing security guards, and they will receive a living wage.

She says today's announcements are things Minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods has been working on for some time.

She also says the resurgence plan has seen 136,000 tests completed in the past week.

While there is no playbook, constant improvement is key to New Zealand's success, she says.

"As the plan was implemented, we then started getting in data that showed that we needed ongoing improvement."

Ardern says it is a very logistically complex operation and the testing strategy is a significant logistical exercise across multiple agencies.

"No intention to move to level 4 and no need to.

"Of course we will continue to see cases but no, no intention..."

Testing and misinformation

Dr Bloomfield says we did well being able to get back to level 1 and there may be things that need to be done routinely, like using masks and the NZ Covid Tracer app, that weren't done the first time.

He says in addition to community testing, the additional testing in a range of settings is logistically complex and he welcomes the help to make sure a plan aligns the health part of this as well as that the workforce are regularly tested.

Ardern says testing alone will never be sufficient. "You have to have infection controls, you have to have PPE use..."

Nothing to date has tracked the Auckland cluster back to the border, she says.

Everyone who worked in the same facility as the maintenance worker will be tested again, Dr Bloomfield says. Serology will be used.

On the spreading of rumours and misinformation Ardern says everyone has a role to play and platforms or publishers should not say they don't have a role to play. "We're being as transparent as possible to try and counter some of the things that we're seeing on those platforms."

She says she knows platforms try to walk the line of freedom of speech.

Among other developments today, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said alert level 3 restrictions in Auckland are helping get to the bottom of the cluster and the city would not go into level 4.

Police say waiting times at Auckland's vehicle checkpoints are much lower, while a transport company said some essential staff were being let through and others were not despite having the same documents.

There are a limited number of personal or work reasons for being granted an exemption to travel through the Auckland border, Dr Bloomfield says there is an application process for anyone who wishes to be considered.

National Party leader Judith Collins told Morning Report Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should take responsibility for a "massive failure" in border worker testing, "first for letting David Clark stay on as health minister for three months, and then appointing Chris Hipkins, who already holds several portfolios, as the new minister".

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

  • 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

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