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New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has expressed frustration over rule-breaking by people implicated in the recent cluster of coronavirus cases, leading to further restrictions for Auckland.
The city re-entered lockdown with level-three restrictions in place for at least a week from Sunday following the discovery of a community case of unknown origin.
Health officials investigating over the weekend successfully established that the person, known as Case M, had been infected through contact with a family counted among the recent Papatoetoe cluster.
The meeting had occurred during the snap three-day lockdown in Auckland earlier in February, and had not been disclosed to contact tracers interviewing the family (Cases D to H) prior to their entering quarantine.
Ardern told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report on Monday morning that it was “obviously very frustrating information” and that authorities would be returning to the original family to understand why it was initially withheld.
She could not say whether it was due to forgetfulness or fear of repercussions, but she did not believe there had been any wilful disregard for the rules.
Case M, a 21-year-old tertiary student, is the older sibling of a pupil at Papatoetoe high school, which has been at the centre of the February outbreak.
Case M had previously returned three negative test results but is regarded to have been potentially infectious since Sunday, during which period they visited several public venues.
Their mother, Case N, has also tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of active community cases to 11.
The Auckland lockdown is expected to run the full seven days with the decision to extend, or lower, alert levels to be made as authorities’ investigations into places of interest continue this week. Nearly 200 contacts of Case M have been identified at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Manukau campus and City Fitness, who are being contacted by public health teams.
Under level-three restrictions, everyone in Auckland is asked to stay at home. The rest of the country is operating at level two.
In the meantime, Ardern’s government is under pressure over how to respond to those perceived to be undermining New Zealand’s Covid response.
The opposition National party is pushing for greater enforcement of self-isolation directives and fines for those who have flouted the rules, with Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop arguing that New Zealand’s “high-trust model” was starting to break down.
“People haven’t felt the pressure to follow the rules because there are no sanctions … We said on 17 February it was a big call to take Auckland out of level three and go down to level two.”
Ardern told Radio New Zealand that any enforcement decisions rested with police, and that the priority was containing this cluster.
“Everyone is angry. I absolutely accept that people want to see repercussions. At the same time, how do we make sure people tell us the truth – because there is nothing more valuable to us that knowing in these scenarios where contact has occurred.”
She resisted the suggestion that the government had been premature in ending the earlier lockdown in February after three days. “We were at the right level at the right time – we just needed people to follow the rules.”
Others have urged against a punitive approach given the potential for it to splinter commitment to the lockdown.
Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist at Auckland University, told Radio New Zealand it was important that people felt comfortable coming forward about contact with confirmed cases.
“The last thing we want to do is create an environment where those who’ve broken the rules don’t come forward for testing or mislead the contact tracers about where they’ve been or who they’ve been with.
“We really need people to cooperate to get through this.”
Ardern had earlier emphasised the stakes in a press conference alongside the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, on Sunday afternoon.
“We have thankfully been without loss of life via Covid-19 for some time, but that is still the primary reason we take these strict, short and sharp measures: Covid kills people …
“We must never lose sight of the reason we take these measures. It is to save our people’s lives, and to save their livelihoods.”
She also urged New Zealanders to recommit to track and trace, test symptoms and isolate when ill. “We know what to do. We have to just make sure we all do it well.”
But Manukau ward councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins told Stuff that the burden of New Zealand’s coronavirus response was now being shouldered by South Auckland communities, without adequate engagement or support.
“I can see we’re slowly moving into the post-kindness phase, where instead of being a team of 5 million, we are hearing that people just need to be compliant,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Everyone is angry’: Ardern under pressure over latest Auckland Covid lockdown | New Zealand