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Extra Covid testing centres have been set up overnight in Auckland as health officials raced to trace contacts of two fresh cases in New Zealand and closed down the quarantine hotel believed to be at the centre of this week’s outbreak.
One man waiting in line in Orewa said he had moved 20 metres in 90 minutes but early queues appeared to ease by the middle of the day. Additional health staff have also been brought in from other regions.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff said the viability of major events coming up was now in doubt. The nation’s Waitangi events – the annual celebration of the treaty between Māoris and Britain – are due to begin next week.
The two new positive cases reported on Wednesday – an adult and child – lived in the north of Auckland and visited a number of places since their release, including multiple supermarkets, takeaway shops, a pharmacy and a major department store.
The Ministry of Health confirmed that the pair – who had twice tested negative during their quarantine – have the South African strain of the virus.
The Pullman hotel – the quarantine facility that also housed Sunday’s case – is now being cleared of guests to allow a thorough investigation into how the outbreak occurred.
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said: “While we still can’t categorically rule these out as historical infections, test results so far indicate the two people may have contracted Covid-19 towards the end of their stay in managed isolation, after returning two negative tests each during their stay.
“It’s too early to early to make a firm conclusion. Genome sequencing results, which are expected tomorrow, and serology results expected the following day, will help develop the picture further.”
The Northland woman who tested positive for the virus on 22 January remains in self-isolation with her husband, and so far no one else in Northland who has been tested has returned a positive result.
Dr Bloomfield said of moves by health authorities to contact trace and mass test: “We understand that many will be anxious, but it’s important to remember we are carrying out these measures as a precaution.
“There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission.”
Chris Bishop, the opposition National party spokesperson for Covid-19, said the recent cases have highlighted several system failures in the managed isolation facilities. “Something is clearly wrong at the Pullman. The whole point of MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine] is that you don’t catch Covid-19 there,” Bishop said, adding that the opposition had been concerned “for months” about the laxity in the MIQ facilities.
“Stories coming out of these facilities have cast doubt on whether the right protocols are in place, and whether they are being followed.”
“There is still evidence of cohort mingling in MIQ facilities, where recent arrivals are able to mix and mingle with people coming towards the end of their stay. That doesn’t make sense.”
In Northland, local iwi groups set up checkpoints on Thursday to “educate” people passing by about Covid-19 and hygiene practices. The illegal checkpoints did not have police approval and by lunchtime, police had moved in to shut the checkpoints down, citing traffic safety concerns.
Waitangi day celebrations are scheduled to begin in Northland next week. So far the government have said there are no plans to cancel festivities, that draw tens of thousands of people to the district.
The National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF), however, has chosen to move its scheduled meeting online as a precaution. “Leadership is about having to make the hard decisions and having the foresight to see beyond this generation, it is our duty to care for and protect our whakapapa – our moko’s, moko,” said Kahurangi Naida Glavish, chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whatua.
“It is important that a forum such as ours shows leadership in relation to the health and wellbeing of our people. As such we have made the collective decision to move our proposed NICF face-to-face hui to an online/virtual kaupapa.”
The news comes as Australia’s Lowy Institute rated New Zealand’s response to the pandemic as the best of 100 countries, giving it a score of 94.4 out of 100.
Other countries who scored highly include Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, with Columbia, Mexico and Brazil.
Factors measured in the assessment include fewer reported cases and deaths, more tests conducted on a per capita basis, and lower rates of positive tests.
In 2020 New Zealand recorded fewer than 2,000 cases of the virus and 26 deaths. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said that her country’s borders will remain closed for much for 2021 to allow Kiwis to be “vaccinated and protected” – a process that could take to the middle of 2022.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: New Zealand sets up extra Covid test centres as quarantine hotel at heart of outbreak closes | Coronavirus