20 Aug 2020

Five new cases of Covid-19 in community linked to Auckland cluster

3:30 pm on 20 August 2020

There are five new confirmed cases of Covid-19 today, all relating to the existing Auckland cluster.

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Four of the new cases are in Auckland, while one is in Tokoroa and receiving care at Waikato Hospital.

Six people in total are receiving hospital-level care - one is in Auckland City Hospital, four are in Middlemore and one in Waikato, and one person is in Middlemore in a stable condition at the intensive care unit.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said 133 people linked to the cluster have been moved to the Auckland quarantine facilities and that includes 65 people who have tested positive.

Dr Bloomfield clarified there are 65 positive cases from current cluster that are in the Auckland quarantine facility and "one or two bespoke arrangements" approved by the ministry for good reasons - they have 24/7 security guards.

The new cases bring the total number of confirmed cases to 1304. The number of active cases is 101.

Dr Bloomfield said of the 80 cases in Auckland, 78 are linked to the cluster with two under investigation - one being the Rydges Hotel maintenance worker and one being a case announced yesterday that was thought to be linked to the cluster but has been reclassified as under investigation because no clear link has been established to the cluster yet.

That person whose case was reclassified today was at St Lukes Mall on the morning of 12 August.

Anyone visiting St Lukes at that time should be alert to symptoms and contact health professionals if feeling sick, Dr Bloomfield said.

Genomic sequencing was still being done on this case but Dr Bloomfield said he couldn't say at this stage whether it was a third strain in the community. Household and workplace close contacts of this case have been tested and are awaiting results.

Dr Bloomfield said a new "strong line of investigation" was being looked at after it was discovered the maintenance worker used the same lift as the woman he is believed to have contracted the virus from, shortly after she had been there.

The nurses who attended the hotel have all returned negative tests so it was unlikely to have been the link, Dr Bloomfield said.

Dr Bloomfield couldn't say if the worker was wearing a mask but it was the ministry's expectation. He also couldn't say if the woman the maintenance worker is believed to contracted it from was wearing one in the lift, because there was no camera in the elevator.

The Director-General has asked for infection control audit of all facilities - it's expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Asked if the additional security systemsat MIQs that were announced today was an admission of failure at the facilities, Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said it was more about refining the systems at the facilities.

Americold environmental testing

No virus has been found on any of the swabs taken from the Americold Wiri site. ESR did find very low levels of the virus on four of the 35 gauze swabs taken at the Mt Wellington site, where one of the first known cases of the cluster that triggered the lockdown was identified.

The positive swabs were from surfaces expected to be touched by a person with the virus, Dr Bloomfield said.

The initial sampling showed that additional work at Americold is not currently warranted and it appears that contamination of imported chilled packaging was not a likely source of infection at this point and therefore the investigation into finding the source remains open, Dr Bloomfield said.

He said the first known infection in the cluster was not transmitted from a contaminated refrigerated product - must be person to person - but he could not yet identify how the person became infected.

Testing of Ports of Auckland and Tauranga has come back negative so far.

Reviewing current alert levels

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said Cabinet will be considering a range of factors tomorrow when reviewing current restrictions.

He said the current plan is that the prime minister will take the podium on Friday afternoon to talk through whether there will be any changes to the current restrictions.

"We'll be looking at the latest information on the cluster, what we know about the cluster and the contact tracing around the cluster, and the test rules from the surge of testing ... we'd be looking at any cases that aren't connected ... we'd be looking at whether any new cases are within the existing contacts."

He said 7800 applications for exemptions to enter or leave Auckland have been received, more than 1000 have been granted and about 100 have been declined.

Another key piece of information Cabinet may consider would be the testing outside of Auckland to detect any further spread, Dr Bloomfield said.

"The other piece of information we have to report to Cabinet is are we confident in our lab capacity and contact tracing capacity, and both of those are in good shape."

Asked if businesses should prepare for cycling in and out of level 3 or higher restrictions, Hipkins said the government will do everything it can to avoid further lockdowns, but that it would be prudent to be prepared as Covid-19 was likely to be with us for a long time and that there are no guarantees.


Yesterday, 18,091 tests were processed - bringing total in most recent surge to 154,000 and total since the start of pandemic to more than 657,000.

Hipkins said 370 of the most "at risk" staff in Auckland Airport face returning crew and passengers have all been tested - and 99 percent of staff working for MPI, Customs and Immigration.

"There are positive signs that are systems are performing as intended, contact tracing is also well," Hipkins said.

Based on the testing, the government has a strong indication that there is not any unseen transmission outside of Auckland, he said.

There are just nine staff at isolation facilities in Auckland who are yet to be tested.

Hipkins acknowledged all the work being done by staff throughout the country during the past week in regards to testing and contact tracing.

There are now 1,626,500 registered users of the NZ Covid Tracer app and 112,616 businesses now have their QR codes on display.

Hipkins said there were some practical considerations around why public transport operators did not require QR codes, including the fact that they were constantly moving, but the government was "looking at it".

Dr Bloomfield said 1996 close contacts were being followed up by the national contact tracing service, 1921 of those had been contacted by 10am today, the rest is a work in progress.

He said he was pleased with the level of testing outside of Auckland, adding that two thirds of testing since this outbreak was happening in Auckland but rates of testing in other regions was satisfactory.

He reminded people with symptoms to get tested and for those without symptoms not to clog the testing system.

Asked about what it was that proved so difficult for the ministry to meet Cabinet's expectations in testing at the border and MIQs, Dr Bloomfield said there was a degree of complexity in rolling out regular testing in variety of workplace settings and teams, it needed co-ordination between the health system, including the DHBs making an increasing number of teams available to do that, while not compromising any important testing in community and in MIQ facilities.

The ministry was in the process of rolling that out when new cluster happened, Dr Bloomfield said.

Hipkins also acknowledged the willingness of the Pasifika community to get tested - data shows they are getting tested at higher rates than other communities and at a significantly higher percentage than that of other populations

The minister also spoke about a rumour that has been spreading recently - he said Oranga Tamariki would not be taking away the children of people who test positive. He said this kind of rumour will deter people from getting tests and must stop.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

Developments this morning

The National Party announced its policy on establishing a Border Protection Agency to oversee and manage Covid-19 and any other public health threats at the border.

Leader Judith Collins said the current Covid-19 border approach was set up in an ad-hoc way and heightened border management will be required.

However, Hipkins said there was little point in testing people before they board a plane - National had proposed in their policy - because infection could happen in transit anyway.

Meanwhile, public health experts say the government wasted the 100 days New Zealand was free of community transmission. They urge the government to launch an inquiry into its response to the Covid-19 pandemic as soon as the Auckland outbreak is under control.

US President Donald Trump has again called New Zealand's coronavirus cluster a "big outbreak" after saying two days ago it was "a big surge" and "terrible".

At a White House media conference today, he said: "New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak - and other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look because we've done an incredible job. They're having a lot of outbreaks but they've been able to put them out and we'll put them out."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday she couldn't see any real comparison with America's tens of thousands of daily cases.

  • 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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