Covid-19: Two new community cases - Chris Hipkins

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Feb 2021, 12:08PM

Covid-19: Two new community cases - Chris Hipkins

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Feb 2021, 12:08PM

There are two new Covid-19 cases in the community, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

The new cases come just hours before the Prime Minister is meeting with Cabinet to decide on the next move for alert levels.

The new cases are students - a brother and sister who attend Papatoetoe High School.

The sister is a classmate and close contact of the original case who tested positive last week.

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said the two new cases were in Year 9 and Year 12.

Couillault has not yet been told about when the siblings were infectious, so he does not yet know whether they will have a large number of other students who will now be considered close contacts.

But he said both siblings "attended regularly" last week, indicating that they were probably at school until Friday.

"They were good students," he said.

The school has been closed until at least Friday. "More information is likely to follow this afternoon," Couillault said.

The new cases were already isolating as were their families, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

Meanwhile, students are still being asked to isolate while they are waiting for tests, Hipkins said.

None of the Taranaki or New Plymouth test results have came back positive.

But Hipkins said "extensive testing" is still underway.

Officials were looking into the new community cases but it's still "early information", Hipkins said.

What does this mean for alert levels?

In terms of what that means for alert levels, Hipkins said these cases have a link to the known cases.

He said the Government has been able to contain new cases in the past, when the source has been known.

But he is not preempting Cabinet's decision this afternoon on alert levels.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will front a press conference at 4:30 pm and outline Cabinet's call.

Responding to the news, Otago University epidemiologist Professor Nick Wilson suggested lockdown be extended.

"Given this, and the persisting uncertainty, it's possibly best to keep the current alert level settings for a few more days."

He also believed mask use in Auckland should be mandatory until restrictions were lifted.

Otago University and ESR virologist Dr Jemma Geoghegan said: "I don't think it's unexpected that we would have these cases.

"I think it would be more surprising if there weren't further cases.

"Obviously, it will now be about reconstructing the sequence of events using the genomes, and seeing if that provides any more information."

Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said it would be important to know whether these were "downstream cases" that caught the virus from the known cases - or whether they were "upstream" - and the original source.

"If it is the latter then this could be the sign of a significant cluster. If it's the former there is still a good chance the cluster is contained."

Asked about the testing of close contacts, Hipkins said of the 31 close contacts in Papatoetoe High School, 29 have been tested 28 are negative, and one is positive.

The other one has not come back yet.

In terms of tests of staff at the LSG Sky Chefs - where one of last week's three community cases works - officials are still awaiting a few results.

Meanwhile, officials are looking at "every potential opportunity there could have been for infection", Hipkins said.

A "big wave of testing" is designed to find out if there are any more Covid-19 positive people in the community.

Hipkins is providing an overview at a select committee of what has been done so far to contain the latest community cases, as well as what the plan is for the coming weeks.

Hipkins decided to make the new community cases known at the committee meeting, rather than waiting until the 1pm statement, because in the past the news of any new community cases has leaked out.

Bloomfield is at the committee too.

National's Shane Reti, as expected, again asked Hipkins about saliva testing. He grilled the Covid Minister in the House yesterday.

These changes include: Air filtration systems in all facility lifts are being replaced, CCTV systems has been upgraded and people's movements have been further limited.

Over the last few days, National has said the Government has done the right thing by putting Auckland at alert level 3 and the rest of the country at level 2.

But they have been zoned in on the issue of saliva testing.

National's Reti says this method should be mandatory and done every day to people in MIQ.

But, speaking in the House yesterday, Hipkins said this method was already being used in tandem with the nasal swaps.

However, he said saliva testing was not as accurate as the current method and would not be used by itself as a means of testing.