Genome testing has shown that the Northland woman who tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend has the new South African 'variant' of the virus and caught it from someone who was staying on the same floor of the Pullman Hotel managed isolation facility in Auckland.
This was confirmed by Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield in a joint media briefing in Wellington on Monday.
"This is good news because we know where the source of the infection is," Hipkins said.
He said that the 56-year-old Northland woman had been staying on the same floor of the Pullman and "in close proximity" to someone who had arrived towards the end of her stay and had ultimately tested positive to Covid after three days in isolation. In the meantime the Northland woman, having tested negative twice, had been released.
Both the South African and UK new variants of Covid are said to be more transmissible though no evidence they were more severe. Bloomfield said there was "some evidence" the South African variant may evade "some aspects" of the immune response more so than earlier strains of the virus.
Hipkins said there was now consideration being given to restricting the movements of returnees when they were getting to the end of their time in isolation.
Hipkins said that 46 travel returnees who were staying in the Pullman at the same time were now having their release delayed and would be "staying a little longer" and getting an extra test done before release.
Of 253 people who were at the Pullman during the time the Northland woman was there and had been subsequently released, 172 had been contacted already and were being told to self isolate and get a test.
Among the Pullman's 220 staff, 114 had already been tested with the remainder to be tested later on Monday.
Hipkins said the possibility of getting new filtration systems in the isolation facilities was being looked at.
In terms of contacts of the woman, her husband and her hairdresser had already tested negative, while there were 13 other identified close contacts who were now in isolation.
Bloomfield said there were 17 additional testing centres set up in Northland and Auckland and these were in "high demand".
He stressed that only people who were in the locations of interest or were feeling unwell should be prioritised.
"There are a lot of people turning up who are neither symptomatic nor were they at those locations."
As an example of the surging numbers seeking testing, Bloomfield said by 11am on Monday 1000 people had been tested in Auckland, compared with about 200 at the same time a week ago.
About 200,000 people had turned on the Bluetooth function for the tracer app since Sunday.
Separately, Bloomfield said there had been six cases of Covid identified in managed isolation since Sunday.
Hipkins indicated there would be a Government update on the vaccination programme after Cabinet on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Health issued the following release on Monday:
Update on Northland case, and 6 cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation
25 January 2021
The Ministry of Health can today confirm that the woman who recently travelled from overseas and completed their stay in managed isolation in the Pullman hotel in Auckland has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
The woman and her only close household contact are isolating at their home south of Whangarei.
The Northland District Health Board Medical Officer of Health has undertaken an assessment of the case and their close household contact, and it has been determined that the pair are currently able to isolate at home. The situation will be monitored closely to ensure there is no public health risk.
Following a further interview with the woman, contact tracing has now found the woman has 15 close contacts. All 15 close contacts have been contacted by health officials, are self-isolating and have been tested.
Of the 15 close contacts, so far we know that two have returned negative test results.
Whole genome sequencing results for the woman have confirmed that she has contracted the South African variant, B.188.8.131.52.
We continue to monitor advice from the World Health Organization on this variant. Currently there’s limited epidemiological data available on the B.184.108.40.206 variant, making it harder to study. The preliminary concern of this variant is that the mutation affects the body’s immune response to it and its transmissibility.
New forms, or variants, of the virus have become increasingly common around the world – and we have expected to see them here in New Zealand.
Link to managed isolation
Whole genome sequencing has linked the case to another guest who was in the managed isolation facility. Their genome sequencing results are identical, leading us to suspect a managed isolation facility transmission.
Early information suggests the transmission occurred between 9 January and 13 January.
Routine testing picked up COVID-19 in the other guest, and this person was transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility on 13 January.They have been classified as recovered and were due to be released but will be asked to stay on for now.
As expected, there have been other cases in the same MIF and we are investigating any possible links between cases to exclude transmission within the MIF.
COVID Tracer app notifications and Bluetooth
COVID Tracer app notifications were issued last night to more than 160 people who visited locations of interest and used the COVID Tracer App.
People who were in the vicinity of the person and have enabled Bluetooth functionality on their app have started to receive notifications. Pleasingly 200,000 people enabled Bluetooth on the app yesterday.
A list of 30 locations of interest is available on the Ministry’s website here.
Public Health clinical staff made calls to the businesses at the locations of interest last night to provide public health advice. Additional followup is happening today.
We do need to all remember it’s important to use the COVID Tracer app to scan QR codes and turn on Bluetooth functionality.
Community testing stations
Northland and Auckland health officials have worked to provide additional testing sites in the area that the woman went to after leaving managed isolation.
There is high demand at community testing centres in Northland currently. It is important that anyone who went to a location of interest around the same time of the case, or may be showing symptoms, is prioritised to get a test.
Northland community testing is available now at: Mangawhai Domain, today until Wednesday; the Ngati Hine Health Trust in Kawakawa; the Turner Centre in KeriKeri today and tomorrow; the Visitor Centre at Ruakaka today and tomorrow until 4pm; and Winger Crescent in Kamo, Whangarei. Testing is also available at Daragaville, Rawene and Kaitaia Hospital
For further information about hours and other community testing sites in the area please go to https://www.healthpoint.co.nz/
The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has a full list of community testing centres throughout the region here https://www.arphs.health.nz/
For anyone that has not been to a location of interest but is concerned, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or call your GP to see if you need to have a test. Please remember to stay home if you are unwell, maintain stringent hygiene practices, including washing and drying your hands and cough or sneeze into your elbow.
6 cases in managed isolation today
There are 6 cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation to report in New Zealand since our last media statement yesterday. Please see table below.
Twenty previously reported cases have now recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 64. Our total number of confirmed cases is 1,932.
The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,489,913.
On Sunday, 2,678 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 3,451 tests processed.
New border case details
Arrival date From Via Positive test day/reason Managed isolation/quarantine location 13 Jan To be determined Australia Around day 11/routine testing Auckland 23 Jan India United Arab Emirates and Malaysia Day 0/routine testing Auckland 23 Jan Laos Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia Around day 0/routine testing Auckland 23 Jan India United Arab Emirates and Malaysia Around day 0/routine testing Auckland 23 Jan Qatar Australia Around day 0/routine testing Auckland 23 Jan Qatar Australia Around day 0/routine testing Auckland
NZ COVID Tracer
NZ COVID Tracer now has 2,475,624 registered users.
In the past 24 hours to 1pm today, 802,973 scans have been recorded. This is a notable increase and we thank everyone that is scanning and enabling Bluetooth on their phone.
Poster scans have reached a total of 159,056,758 and users have created 6,476,767 manual diary entries.