20 Apr 2021

Covid-19: Worker at Auckland Airport tests positive, plus one historical case

6:02 pm on 20 April 2021

The Auckland Airport worker who has tested positive for Covid-19 cleans planes from high risk Covid-19 'red-zone countries', and had been fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

The Ministry of Health reported in a statement this afternoon that the person tested positive. It said there was also one historical case.

Speaking more than an hour later, Ardern said the border worker cleaned planes which had come from places with high numbers of Covid-19 cases and carrying people with the coronavirus.

"A very clear link at this stage to cases that are high risk," she said.

"The reason this person was part of our surveillance testing was because they were working in an area we consider to be high-risk. They are coming in contact with the planes that are carrying passengers from high risk countries and so that is a place where our workers, they are in the kinds of roles that means they need to be tested, they need to be vaccinated, but they also need to be thanked for the jobs that they do because of the risk that it carries."

They were fully vaccinated early on in the campaign and were last tested on 12 and 19 April, she said. Yesterday's test returned a positive result today.

At least 16 close contacts, three locations of interest - MOH

In a statement this evening, the ministry said it had identified 16 close contacts of the airport worker had been identified so far.

Five household contacts have been tested and have returned negative tests.

The ministry said Auckland Airport was the person's sole employer, and their role was non-public-facing.

Three locations of interest had been identified, the ministry said:

  • Westfield St Luke's Food Court, Saturday 17 April 2021 12:15pm to 2:30pm
  • Bunnings New Lynn, Saturday 17 April 2021 2:30pm to 3:50pm
  • Movenpick Dominion Road, Saturday 17 April 2021 5:15pm to 7:20pm

People who had visited those places should monitor their health and be aware of any symptoms of Covid-19. Anyone who developed symptoms should stay at home, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 and get a test.

Airport worker was fully vaccinated

Ardern said people can still get Covid-19 after being vaccinated, but it would make them a lot less sick than otherwise. The Pfizer vaccine which is being used in New Zealand provides about 95 percent protection against the virus.

"So in this case it is working as intended. This is not a worker who is very unwell and yet they have Covid, so it is doing its job. It doesn't mean people won't get it."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media after a worker at Auckland Airport tested positive for Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media after a worker at Auckland Airport tested positive for Covid-19. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

They were fully vaccinated early in the vaccination roll-out, Ardern said. She reiterated people who are vaccinated can still get Covid-19 "but they won't get sick and they won't die".

"That's what the vaccine is for - it's to stop the pandemic becoming so dire that we see our hospitals full and people losing their lives. It means the symptom onset is greatly reduced."

Early data showed it also reduced the likelihood the virus could be passed on to others.

The ministry said breakthrough infections happened with all vaccines.

"This shows us how important it is that as many New Zealanders as possible take up the offer to receive the vaccine when they are offered it and are protected. The more people that are vaccinated, the more protected we will all be."

No change to trans-Tasman travel bubble

The new case came just one day into the start of a quarantine-free travel bubble for Australia and New Zealand.

Ardern said both countries had expected there would be cases of Covid-19 among border workers while the trans-Tasman bubble was open.

She had not spoken to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yet, but said she would anticipate the border case would not alter the bubble arrangement.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Health later confirmed there was as yet no change to travel arrangements in response to the New Zealand border worker with Covid-19.

The person was tested regularly because they worked in an area of high risk, Ardern said.

Call for worker not to be blamed

In a statement, the ministry said the usual protocol of isolating the case, interviewing them and tracing their contacts and movements was under way.

A deserted baggage claim area at Auckland Airport's international terminal during the Covid-19 alert level 3 lockdown on 7 May 2020.

Auckland Airport. (File photo) Photo: Brett Phibbs / PhibbsVisuals

E Tū union head of aviation Savage said it was important the public not put blame on the airport worker.

"In situations like this a lot of pressure gets put on aviation workers and airport workers... sometimes there's a lot of blame put onto them.

"And as we know this virus is very difficult to contain, and I think the public should be reassured that there are very good health and safety regulations in place."

It was unfortunate the highly transmissible virus could sometimes slip through even strict protocols, Savage said.

In its statement this afternoon, the Ministry of Health said the historical case was a recent returnee from Somalia via UAE who was tested on day 12 of their stay, but was considered recovered.

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, it said.

With 17 previous cases recovering, total active cases was 86. Total confirmed cases was 2241.

Since 1 January 2021, there have been 49 historical cases, out of a total of 425 cases.

On Monday, 3252 tests were processed for a seven-day rolling average of 4254.

Yesterday two new cases of Covid-19 in MIQ were reported - both in arrivals from India before travel from there was suspended.

One was part of a bubble with two previously reported cases and had been transferred to a quarantine facility on 4 April. The other had contact with a confirmed case while in transit and had been tranferred to a quarantine facility, the ministry said.

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