3 Mar 2021

Covid-19: Developments from 3 March, 2021

10:27 pm on 3 March 2021

Pressure is mounting on the government to fully subsidise workers having to isolate, officials continue to defend their communications after conflicting claims, and the vaccine immunisation programme continues to expand.

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Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook, Google Maps, Supplied / Ministry of Health, RNZ / Dom Thomas

There were no new community cases reported today in the country.

But the fallout from whether a KFC worker - who later tested positive for Covid-19 - was told of the isolation requirements has continued to garner attention, with National Party leader and ACT also chiming in.

There has been debate over whether the worker and their family - which included a student from Papatoetoe High School at the centre of the cluster - was told to self-isolate. The prime minister has previously said there was clear communication that they needed to do so, with repeated attempts to contact the family.

However, the KFC worker insisted they were not told to isolate.

In response to a question from a member of the public, the official Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook page contradicted officials' comments, saying the duo had completed their shifts before new rules required them to self-isolate.

In a statement, ACT leader David Seymour said the prime minister needed to explain herself and accused the government of "making up the rules as it goes".

In today's update on cases, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins defended the prime minister's version of events - saying numerous texts and phone calls were made to Case L's family.

Hipkins reiterated the Papatoetoe High School community was told on 17 February that everyone in an affected household needed to get a test.

"That was then repeated, then further information sent out on 19 February. The two siblings started to show symptoms on the 19th and 20th and the person went to work on the 22nd despite at the point there were two people in the household showing symptoms and no-one had been tested."

He said there was enough risk involved for the family to understand they should not have been enaging with the community.

He urged people not pile on to affected families' social media, saying everyone makes mistakes and no-one should fear coming forward for a test and any bullying behaviour was not constructive to the Covid-19 response.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In addition, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the point was that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms needed to get tested quickly and self-isolate, and household members should also wait at home until the test result returns.

"The instructions did change over time, but it was very clear right from the start that all students in the school needed to be tested, and the student in that family - who actually had been symptomatic for a few days - hadn't been tested by the Monday, and so I think the instructions to all the families were clear."

In relation to the Facebook response, he said that was a general comment about the advice that had gone out to all affected families, "without at that point the knowledge that indeed there were members of the family who had been symptomatic and should have been tested earlier than perhaps they were".

Ministry ended translation contract, provider says

While the government faces criticism over how effective its communication methods have been, Asian Family Services says its Ministry of Health contract to translate health advice ended last month.

Director Kelly Feng said although they were no longer working under a contract, they were still translating advice for the benefit of the community.

While the Ministry of Health offers Covid-19 messaging in 24 other languages, including Korean, Punjabi, Somali and Samoan, the Tracer app is only available in English.

Destiny Church leaders' actions 'completely irresponsible'

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the actions of the Destiny Church leaders in leaving Auckland on the eve of the alert level 3 lockdown were "completely irresponsible".

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Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

It comes as concern mounts over some churches defying lockdown rules and spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, church leader Hannah Tamaki posted on Facebook to say the couple were now touring the country and would be in Invercargill this weekend.

In this afternoon's daily update, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Tamakis' actions were "completely irresponsible".

"Sneaking out of Auckland right at the beginning of a lockdown and having large gatherings of people is simply putting people at risk unnecessarily."

Bloomfield said he doubted they were the only ones to have left the region ahead of the lockdown. Figures showed thousands left the city in between the lockdown being announced and the change coming into force on Sunday morning.

In a statement released afterwards, Destiny Church said it was not the media's job to sanction, on behalf of the state, the leaders' work or travel arrangements, and it would not be dictated to by the state.

It said the couple was constantly targeted with negativity which it said reeks of contemporary discrimination and racism against Māori.

More vaccines arrive and contact tracing in spotlight

More than half of the border workforce have now received their first Covid-19 vaccinations, as a third batch of vaccines arrive in the country.

Covid-19 vaccine arrival in New Zealand on 2 March, 2021.

Covid-19 vaccines arrive in New Zealand on 2 March, 2021. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

It brings the total number of Covid-19 vaccines in New Zealand to 200,000.

"From here, we plan to ramp up the vaccination programme, as we move to vaccinate border workers' families and household contacts. We will then move on to front-line health and emergency staff - those people who may be exposed to Covid-19 while doing their jobs," Hipkins said.

Border workers' families and household contacts will start to be vaccinated next week, but in some smaller regions, district health boards have already been able to include these groups.

ACT leader David Seymour said the public deserved to know who the next groups in line were ahead of time.

He said Cabinet was "making our vaccination programme up as it goes along, signing off different tiers of the population at every Monday Cabinet meeting and then holding a big reveal later in the week."

Hipkins told Checkpoint the Government will release the full order of who will get vaccinated within the next week or two.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace understood vaccination of the country's 40,000 aged care facility residents and 30,000 staff would begin in April and be finished by June.

Health authorities have been also been criticised by National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti for being too slow to find and isolate close contacts of the Papatoetoe High School cluster.

In response, Bloomfield said 87 percent of the close contacts in the latest outbreak were isolated within 48 hours.

He said 48 hours was the time taken to isolate everyone after the authorities learn of a positive case.

Dr Reti was quoting a different measure, the time taken for a case to be isolated after first developing symptoms, and - according to Ministry of Health figures he released - that was below target.

Government rejects full wage for isolation payments

The government has poured cold water over calls to pay 100 percent of a person's wages for two weeks if they have been told to self-isolate.

National leader Judith Collins 17/02/21

National Party leader Judith Collins says the current pay for people isolating due to Covid-19 is simply not enough. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Fulltime workers who need to self-isolate are currently eligible for almost $1200 and part-time workers $700 as a lump sum for a two-week period, paid directly to employers.

The National Party and Greens want that increased and paid directly to workers. Unite Union and E tū union also backed that call.

It comes after criticism that people may feel obliged to work even if they're under orders to stay at home, due to their financial circumstances.

Hipkins said there was already a wide range of support available, including through the wage subsidy scheme, Resurgence Support Payment package, and income relief for those isolating.

He said the National Party have not indicated how they would pay for this additional measure that they were proposing.

"We can't financially compensate every possible scenario for every person who has been disadvantaged as a result of Covid-19, what we are trying to do is make sure we are spreading financial support as widely as we can to those who need it the most so that we can all get through this."

The government also today confirmed details of support for businesses under the latest lockdown, including the nationwide extension of the wage subsidy scheme and the Resurgence Payment Support package, which was welcomed by BusinsessNZ and the Council of Trade Unions.

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