9 Sep 2020

Covid-19: Student who tested positive an undisclosed contact, Hipkins says

5:12 pm on 9 September 2020

Update: After this story was published, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed that the student was not a close contact of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church cluster.

He said the student was among the cases that were infected by someone who was part of the church congregation, but were not close contacts. Watch the video here.

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Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Health Minister Chris Hipkins says it has become apparent some close contacts of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church sub-cluster were not previously disclosed.

A student at St Dominic's Catholic College in Auckland has tested positive for Covid-19, and has been linked to the sub-cluster.

The student was last at school on Friday but left early after starting to feel unwell.

Hipkins said in this case it appears that it was a close contact of the sub-cluster that had not been previously disclosed. However, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed that the student was not a close contact of the cluster or sub-cluster.

"We did identify yesterday, in the cluster of cases announced, that there were a couple of cases that had not been previously identified ... it would appear that somewhere along the way someone has not fully disclosed all of their contacts."

"Obviously this is information we'd have liked to see sooner and we may have had fewer infections as a result had we known about the chain of connection."

The authorities are now looking into whether that was on purpose.

"We've got community leaders in there, we've got police working alongside Auckland Regional Public Health as well to make sure we are getting all of the information that we need.

"That's one of the things that the investigation is looking at now and it will include looking at whether there was a deliberate decision not to disclose, or whether it was simply an oversight," Hipkins said.

Hipkins said he asked health authorities to get police involved yesterday. He said police have good connections with the community and it's a symbolic sign that this is a very serious situation.

He said this sub-cluster has been a challenge to work with as some members do not understand the seriousness of the situation.

"There are certainly some within the cluster that perhaps don't accept or haven't previously accepted the science involved here."

They are now being educated on the gravity of the situation, he said.

"It would certainly appear that they were skeptical at the beginning," Hipkins said. "I think that a lot of work has been done with them since then."

"At the end of the day, any system we have around Covid-19 is going to rely on people doing the right thing, so we are working very closely with this community."

He said that all testing indicates, so far, that it is still a relatively small cluster, but the thought that people aren't disclosing contacts and there could be other, unknown, cases out in the community is concerning.

"It's the thought that keeps me awake every night at the moment. That's not just with this case, it's with every case."

Hipkins said they are getting close to finding the "outer perimeter" of the cluster and yesterday was a slight setback.

Hipkins said parents should still feel confident sending their children to school.

"Clearly there's been one or two cases where the contact tracing system hasn't identified them, but they were picked up by testing instead.

"So, the backstop of wide testing is picking up the extra cases so parents can have confidence that outside of the schools that have been identified there aren't extra cases that aren't disclosed."

St Dominic's Catholic College will close for at least three days and the Ministry of Education are working to identify close contacts of the case.

Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told Morning Report it's not surprising to hear some in the community are skeptical about Covid-19 and disinformation has been spreading.

"There are very key people in our communities within New Zealand and people in positions of influence who are really trying to disrupt our team of five million by spreading false information about the pandemic," Wiles said.

"If that's the reason why some people are not disclosing contacts or have not been cooperating, we're now going to see the consequences of that."

Wiles said we need to be careful in the way we deal with skeptics.

"If you end up being too heavy-handed, you can reinforce those views so it's very important to work with the community.

She said it's not a failure of the contact tracing process at all.

"This is a team of five million. This is about people and it only works when we all do our bit ... it's on all of us to be really mindful about sharing disinformation and talking to people around us who might be having these views."

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