Politics

Covid-19 coronavirus: Nervous wait for tests ahead of long weekends

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New Zealanders will today have a “better picture” as to whether there has been any community transmission in Auckland, as the region holds its breath ahead of the long weekend.

Much hinges around what happens with the test results of 48 returnees, who stayed alongside four confirmed Covid-19 cases at the Pullman Hotel and who have since left the facility.

Neither Ministry officials, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield or Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins know how many in that cohort have been tested, or how many have been contacted.

But, according to Bloomfield: “We will have a very good picture by [1 pm today], especially with all the testing that has been done.”

This comes as the Australian Government revealed it has extended its suspension of its one-way travel bubble with New Zealand for another 72 hours.

The hold on the bubble is now due to end on Sunday, January 31.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she retains confidence in New Zealand’s systems and processes but acknowledged the decision was for the Australian Government to make.

In fact, Hipkins yesterday told reporters that New Zealand’s MIQ standard was at a “platinum” level.

But this claim has come under pressure, as officials continue to investigate the latest Covid-19 outbreak at the Pullman Hotel.

Despite this, Hipkins says “we’re not seeing any evidence of community transmission at this point”.

He said that later today he will have “more information about whether we need to do anything around alert levels or any changes.”

“At this point, I haven’t seen information that would indicate that there is that risk,” he told reporters yesterday.

This comes as Ardern revealed that the Government is investigating “extra requirements” for those leaving MIQ facilities in light of the new Auckland cases.

Although the Government has not gone into detail about these new requirements yet, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said those leaving MIQ facilities should be required to self-isolate for a week.

“Quite clearly, the period, after you leave MIQ, you are still at an elevated risk.”

In the meantime, the Pullman Hotel remains under the microscope as officials investigate how three people contracted the virus during their isolation – one other person was the source case who infected the others.

The facility is now closed to new arrivals and once all those currently isolating have left, it will undergo a hospital-grade “deep clean”.

As well as this, Hipkins announced that all returnees across all managed isolation facilities will now be required to stay in their rooms for the last two days of their time in quarantine.

“The day three and the day 12 [testing], when we introduced it, was the gold standard – now we’ve moved into a platinum standard.”

Meanwhile, officials are now rushing to get in contact with everyone who left the Pullman between January 9 and 13, telling them to get a test and self-isolate.

Hipkins said that of the 353 guests who left the facility over that period, 303 have tested negative for Covid-19.

Two were positive – they are the cases outlined by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday night, who became infected while isolating at the Pullman.

Bloomfield revealed yesterday that the pair is a father and daughter in Auckland’s North Shore.

They left the Pullman on January 15 and have since been moved into quarantine – the child’s mother, who has tested negative, is in self-isolation.

But Hipkins said officials are still waiting on the results for the remaining 48 people in that cohort.

He was unable to say how many have been tested, how many were yet to be contacted, and how many were still waiting on the results of the test.

But he did say they were being “actively followed up”.

A Health Ministry spokesperson said those people were re-contacted on Wednesday morning but it was unknown as to whether they were awaiting results, or if they’d been tested at all.

Last night, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer revealed 12 people who completed quarantine at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland had travelled to Australia.

“All these people are being followed up by the health authorities in the state where they landed.”

It is unknown as to whether any of these 12 were part of the cohort of 48 who have yet to return a negative test.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB last night, Bloomfield was unable to confirm these reports.

But he did tell reporters earlier in the day that any one of those 48 who has been tested has a unique code on their test sample so officials know to expedite the test and to turn results around quickly.

Neither he nor Hipkins could put a timeline on when the results would be made public.

He said officials will be able to tell if there is any wider community spread later today.

There were 8306 tests on Wednesday – 36,230 tests in the seven days to Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ardern said she is looking into extra post-MIQ measures, in light of the new cases.

“We are always looking for extra assurances for everyone – if that means adding in some extra requirements once you leave, that is absolutely what we’re looking at.”

At the moment, when people leave a MIQ they are given “very clear” instructions around what to do if they experience any symptoms – “we want to go a step further than that”.

Asked what “a step further” means, Hipkins said that the Government had previously looked into requiring a post-departure Covid-19 test and requiring follow-up phone calls.

“We are going to look at that, again to see whether that’s still the right measure or whether there should be other measures that we might put in place.”

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