23 Oct 2020

Covid-19: Experts warn against complacency ahead of Labour Day weekend

12:43 pm on 23 October 2020

The Ministry of Health and public health experts are warning New Zealanders not to get complacent with Covid-19 measures as holidaymakers head off across the country during the long weekend.

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Photo: Richard Whitcombe/ 123rf

In the Covid-19 update today, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield urged the public to continue to take note through the app or a diary of where they go and with who.

"Remember this virus does not take breaks," he says, emphasising that people who are feeling unwell should not go to any gatherings.

If you are away from home and become symptomatic, call Healthline.

"Don't wait until you get home to get tested. Testing will be available throughout the country over the long weekend and you can find testing locations on your local DHB website," the ministry says.

Dr Bloomfield had previously noted that use of the app had dropped dramatically as the country went back to alert level 1.

"There is an ongoing risk that further community cases will emerge in the future, and the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the community is much greater in lower alert levels when there are no restrictions on gatherings or going out.

"Our key point is that alert level 1 is not alert level none."

And although the ministry is not at this stage suggesting a move up alert levels, Dr Bloomfield says if New Zealand does the right things over the long weekend then there won't be a need to do so.

"Wherever you go and whatever you do over Labour weekend, record it," the ministry says.

"This is particularly important as many people may be moving around the country, and you may not recall later the names and places of everywhere you visit if you are away from home."

It comes after a community case emerged last week when a port worker became infected - believed to be traced back to the Sofrana Surville ship. A co-worker that they had been with in the same room for a mere three minutes or so also tested positive later.

But the minister of health says it's possible there was another chain in the link of that transmission, including another co-worker who was identified as a close contact and tested positive later on.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service then issued a notice for an 'exposure event' as they established the movements of the community cases - the co-worker had gone to pub on the North Shore on Friday while unknowingly infectious.

The co-worker was previously considered a casual contact, not close, and had also returned a negative test initially but then became symptomatic and returned a positive result.

ARPHS says this is a reminder of the importance of scanning QR codes when going out.

"Even if you have fallen out of the habit of using the app, please start again - reset your habits and go from now," the ministry said, adding that businesses should also ensure the codes were easily visible and encourage customers to scan.

Equally important was ensuring people didn't fall behind in hygienic practices - wash hands regularly, keep surfaces clean, cough and sneeze into your elbows, wear a face covering where you know won't be able to maintain physical distancing in indoor spaces.

"We strongly encourage everyone to continue to use a face covering on public transport and flights."

However, despite public messaging from the ministry on these measures, epidemiologist Sir David Skegg told Nine to Noon he was concerned about what he was seeing and hearing.

"I've been really concerned now for two or three weeks - I still always use my app to record a QR code, I hardly ever see anyone else do it. I haven't flown recently... people tell me most people aren't wearing masks on the plane and again the government gave the wrong message there, I think, because I think people have just been led to believe that we've defeated this virus and we haven't - it's going to keep happening - and if we want to avoid lockdowns we're going to have to change our behaviour."

The public need to keep in mind the virus is going to pop up in the community from time to time, he says.

"We need to keep practising sensible physical distancing ... shaking hands is a great way of passing viruses around, we just need to be vigilant because we're so lucky in New Zealand, we've done so well, we're enjoying freedoms and security that just are a distant memory in most countries, but we shouldn't assume this is going to go on forever if we don't take precautions."

He also suggested that masks should be mandatory on public transport during the Labour Day long weekend to help stop any further community spread of Covid-19.

What to do if you are a contact of a case or become symptomatic

If you are contacted by public health staff and asked to be tested because you are a possible contact, you should get tested promptly and remain in isolation until you receive the result.

Even if the result is negative, the ministry is adding precautions and asking people to monitor their health for the following two weeks - the incubation period. If they do become symptomatic, they should get tested again.

If you are a casual contact, you should also look to minimise social contact for the full 14 days and use the Covid app diligently.

Anyone who is a close contact will be self-isolating at home for the 14 days and regularly monitored.

Covid-19 testing is also available across Auckland at the six permanent community testing centres, and at urgent care clinics and all general practices.

Three community testing centres are confirmed to stay open through the long weekend - those are Northcote Community Testing Centre, Northcare Accident and Medical, and the Whanau Ora Community Clinic in Wiri. Wherever you get swabbed, a Covid-19 test is free of charge.

Further info on testing locations can be found on your local DHB's website.

  • 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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