1 Sep 2020

No quarantine or managed isolation staff have tested positive - Woods

2:45 pm on 1 September 2020

The minister in charge of managed isolation facilities Megan Woods says none of the staff there have tested positive, with 97 percent tested.

Watch the media briefing from about 1pm:

Woods has been speaking alongside head of managed isolation and quarantine Air Commodore Darryn Webb in an update this afternoon.

Webb says more than 44,000 people have successfully completed stays in managed isolation and quarantine and entered the community.

He says there is capacity for 6628 people across 32 facilities. There are 5035 people in managed isolation and quarantine and this is expected to rise to 5638 by the end of the week.

Webb says the transition from private security guards to MBIE-employed guards has begun, with the additional rollout of more security technology.

"NZDF personnel have been given limited powers by the Director-General of Health to give legal directions for people at our facilities and to approve or deny entry."

Enforcement of those directions will be done by police, he says.

Flight crew are required to comply with ministry of health guidelines, Webb says, including wearing PPE, self-isolating, and physical distancing.

He says exemptions from MIQ are only granted under exceptional circumstances, with most being granted for unaccompanied minors, those in transit, or people whose medical needs who require hospital level care or to visit a dying relative if the risk is low.

Woods says 97 percent of the quarantine and managed isolation workforce have tested negative between 21 and 27 August. The 3 percent who were not tested were on leave or did not enter a facility in the period "under question", she says. Webb says there's about five or six healthcare workers for each MIQ facility.

Woods says on 21 August the Air Commodore Darryn Webb directed all staff continue to be tested. The next round of testing of MIQ staff is under way, she says, and will be completed on 6 September.

The Ministry of Health's latest update on Covid-19 case numbers today has revealed 14 new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand - five in the community and nine in managed isolation - bringing the total active cases to 132.

The high number of cases in MIQ today is a reflection that "Covid is growing not slowing" around the world, Minister Woods says, adding that testing at facilities has been consistent.

Some 97 percent of returnees' day 12 tests were completed, and 95 percent of day three tests were completed.

Reasons why the day three tests may not have been done include medical exemptions or the individual may have been under six months old, she says.

"We know day three tests are only part of the management of people in managed isolation facilities, and with or without the test returnees are still managed in a way that still considers they may have Covid-19," she says, adding that no-one leaves without a day-12 test.

She says there are already high levels of day three testing and most of those not getting the day three tests had reasons for it, which is part of why the test is not mandatory.

Only those who have medical exemptions may not get a day 12 test, but those who refuse a day-12 test are forced to stay in isolation facility longer, she says.

"Most of the time they eventually take the test before they reach day 28."

To date, there have been 15 people who initially chose not to take a day 12 test, but then eventually decided to take it, she says.

Woods says part of the government's thinking from the start has also been around whether to construct purpose-built MIQ facilities.

"We are not opposed [to that idea] ... what we need to do is look at how that stacks up, in terms of the cost of construction and the cost of running it, compared to what we're doing ... but the constraint is on managed isolation not facilities so to talk about doing that as a pathway to expand capacity is I think the wrong way of thinking about it."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins this morning said there was no good reason to keep children away from school despite the Covid-19 outbreak.

"All of the new cases that we're seeing of Covid-19 in the Auckland community are coming from known contacts so these were people who were already isolating so they wouldn't be in school and they wouldn't be in the workplace, he told Morning Report. "That should give people reassurance that this cluster is being contained."

Woods reiterates that there is yet to be a conclusive link to be established as to the source origins of the Auckland cluster.

"Actually the genomics would point us in the direction that it's highly unlikely [to be from MIQ facilities], because it's something that we've been chasing down hard in terms of not only the strain but the generations of the strain."

She says the strain from the Auckland cluster is most likely to have come from the UK.

"The first thing we did is go and have a look at all the positive cases that had returned from the UK in that period and make sure we had done sequencing on those, and if we hadn't, could go back to the samples and do genomic sequencing."

However, none really fitted the time frame of resurgence, she says.

"But we have gone back and done testing where we didn't have it on a number of our returnees' sample. Not every sample is possible to do sequencing from ... you do need a large amount of DNA to be able to do the sequencing."

It could also be the case that we may never know how the Auckland August cluster originated, Woods says, but that "doesn't stop us continuing to use all of the tools in our toolbox to stamp it out and trace this virus."

Woods says there are two trials in Rotorua with the CovidCard. One is in the community led by Minister Kris Faafoi, and another in MIQ facilities.

Looking at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on jobs and incomes, a report compiled by the Ministry of Social Development found the number of beneficiaries rose by 12 percent in April this year, the highest increase in the past 24 years.

Woods says one of the biggest questions over coming months will be how to manage re-opening of the borders and who to prioritise.

She says pre-departure testing is "very limited" in its use, however.

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