18 Feb 2021

No new community cases, face coverings mandatory on public transport - Hipkins

3:24 pm on 18 February 2021

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 today and Cabinet has agreed to make face coverings on public transport a requirement for all of New Zealand, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Watch the briefing here:

In this afternoons Covid-19 update, Hipkins says The Cook Strait ferries are the exception to the rule.

For taxis, it is not mandatory but encouraged to wear face coverings for passengers, he says.

"It's important that we all play our part to cover for each other."

Hipkins says the Covid Tracer app scans have spiked in the past 48 hours.

"To all businesses ... please make sure you are displaying your QR codes prominently."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there are three new Covid-19 cases in managed isolation facilities.

He says it's reassuring that there are no new community cases today and that the three community cases from yesterday are all in quarantine.

Locations of interest will continue to be updated if any more come to light.

As at 11.30am today all of the close contacts from the new community cases have returned negative tests, Dr Bloomfield says.

There are 1490 casual contacts and almost all have been tested.

As for the McDonald's worker, Dr Bloomfield says some other staff working at the same time are close contacts and are isolating and will be tested twice.

He says as part of the source investigation, LSG Skychefs staff have been tested. About 350 results have been negative with about 90 pending.

Auckland is in alert level 2 and the rest of New Zealand in level 1 despite three new community cases of Covid-19 being announced on Wednesday. Two Papatoetoe High School students and a household contact tested positive for the coronavirus. The cases were linked to the three announced on Sunday.

Papatoetoe High School will remain closed for the rest of the week. Students, staff and their families are required to isolate at home until Monday, and not return to school on Monday without a negative test.

All close contacts from Papatoetoe High School are in self-isolation until 24 February and will need a second negative test before returning to school, Dr Bloomfield says.

"I personally want to recognise the principal for his support and strong response.

Hipkins also praises the school's response to the virus: The principal has been a "model of leadership".

"At this stage, all scenarios for possible infection sources are being investigated," Dr Bloomfield says.

He says the link to the airport via LSG Skychefs remains the most likely theory.

The Sheraton MIQ facility is a new line of inquiry due to genomic similarities, he says.

The Four Points at Sheraton showed there was a case of the same strain from December that was similar enough for an investigation of an epidemiological link - although that was six weeks ago and "seems very unlikely", Bloomfield says.

He says creating that link without any community cases was unlikely.

More than 5000 tests have been conducted in Auckland since Sunday and demand is still high at testing sites across South Auckland.

On vaccinations, Hipkins says they're on track to start this weekend for border workers.

"Officials have been working on logistics for months and a dry run gave them a chance to stress test it."

It will be the biggest vaccination campaign in NZ's history, he says.

The dry run included possible scenarios including system failures and mistakes - and had given confidence that the real vaccinations could begin.

"The final steps in preparations ... will include vaccinators ... receiving the first of their vaccines."

"We're on track to ensure that another layer of protection for New Zealanders ... is underway."

Hipkins says moving Auckland to alert level 3 was the appropriate response.

Bloomfield says the airport precinct still seems the most likely source of the new community cluster.

"In the order of likely ways the virus is transmitted, person-to-person is the highest."

Hipkins says not finding the source is a possibility - like the Americold case last year.

"What we needed to do... over the level 3 period was to do extensive testing to rule out the potential of community transmission."

Bloomfield says genome sequencing of two teenage cases yesterday showed they were identical and one step away from the original student at Papatoetoe High School.

He says dealing with all recent cases has helped with refining the response.

"We are seeing that system continuing to work very well."

Hipkins says he has been concerned about some reports of how border workers were being treated in the community.

"That is having a significant impact on them."

They are "national heroes", Hipkins says.

He says the government will continue to provide them with support.

"I am concerned ... we can all do something about that, which is to send our love to those workers and send our thanks to them."

Hipkins said part of the work to help them was make their employment was more regular - that reduced hourly wages but gave them job security and benefits of full time contracts like holidays and sick leave.

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