Hipkins says 'too early to speculate' on alert level change, as Govt investigates Northland community Covid-19 case

Source: 1News

The Government has not announced any alert level changes, as it continues to investigate a positive case of Covid-19 announced in the Northland community of Whangārei today.

Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins along with the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield delivered the news in a press conference at 4.00pm at the Beehive.

The case is a 56-year-old woman had been in managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland after returning from Europe. At present she has not been placed in a quarantine facility, and Bloomfield said there may be an opportunity for her to isolate at home.

“She tested negative twice during her stay and was released following that,” said Hipkins.

He said the origin and variant of infection was still unknown, and that it was important not to speculate on what the variant might be until information would be available.

“It’s also too early to speculate on what our possible response options may be, including things like alert levels.

“We don’t have the relevant information we need to make any further decisions on that.

“Of course when we do, of course, we will keep people informed,"said  Hipkins. 

He said steps to undertake genome sequencing and a second PCR test were already underway, which could take around 24 hours for both results to come through. 

Hipkins reinforced key public health messages for people to self-isolate if they are feeling unwell and to get a Covid-19 test.

“Don’t go to work if you are feeling unwell. Please do use the Covid Tracer app to scan everywhere that you go.

“Turn on Bluetooth and wash your hands,” he said.

Hipkins said turning on Bluetooth did not mean people should stop scanning, but should do both.

He said the woman concerned had been “scrupulous” in keeping a good record of her movements and scanning QR codes, which created a good foundation for the contact tracing team “to do what they need to do now”.

“That work is well under way,” Hipkins said. 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman had travelled in Spain and the Netherlands late last year and while in the Netherlands had stayed with family who were all well at the time.

“But subsequently one or two of those family have tested positive for Covid-19,” Hipkins said.

He said the person travelled to New Zealand from London by way of Singapore and arrived in Auckland on December 30.

She completed 14 days in isolation at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel and while there returned two negative tests on January 2 and 10.

“She did not have symptoms while in managed isolation,” Bloomfield said.

He said the woman had left managed isolation on January 13 and returned home to Northland, where she lives with one other person who is not symptomatic but has been tested and is isolating.

Bloomfield said she was called by health officials on January 16 to check in following her isolation stay, but she had not reported any symptoms.

However, her recollection after discussing her symptoms with the medical officer of health today, revealed she developed “muscle aches” on January 15 which had “got progressively worse”.

She was then tested at a community testing station and the result came back on Saturday night. 

“We are working on the assumption that this is a positive case and that it is a more transmissible variant,” Bloomfield said.

Following release from managed isolation, Bloomfield said the woman travelled around the southern part of the Northland region with her husband.

After a “thorough interview” four close contacts were identified and they have all been tested and are self-isolating.

Bloomfield said in this case “we are also casting the net wide” as a precautionary approach to ensure that any potential community transmission is contained.

He said the woman had been to 30 locations following her release from managed isolation and the contact tracing team were in the process of contacting those places and further information would be on the ministry’s website and through push notification on the Covid Tracer app.

He said the list of locations, potential exposure dates and times would be published here soon.

Those who didn’t use the Covid Tracer app would need to “jog their memories”.

He said extra testing centres would be added to the Northland region, including Mangawhai.

“This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues and this is a tricky virus,” said Bloomfield.

In Northland, Covid-19 testing is available at 20 Winger Crescent, Kamo, Whangārei 4pm until 8pm.

In Auckland, the Balmoral Rd station was meant to shut earlier this afternoon but 1 NEWS understands it has extended its hours.

Epidemiologist, Michael Baker told 1 NEWS that a border case of Covid-19 would make it easier to contact trace.

"Having a link to the border is always a relief, as it means there’s a finite number of people to be chased."

The last confirmed community case was two months ago, officially reported on 21 November.