Live: Covid curve-ball - Auckland D-day; three new Waikato cases

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 20 Sep 2021, 7:08AM
Two students at Mangatangi School on the Hauraki Plains have tested positive for Covid-19. (Photo / File)
Two students at Mangatangi School on the Hauraki Plains have tested positive for Covid-19. (Photo / File)

Live: Covid curve-ball - Auckland D-day; three new Waikato cases

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 20 Sep 2021, 7:08AM


Auckland may still move down an alert level but Waikato may move up one after three new Delta cases - household contacts of a Covid-positive Auckland prisoner who was bailed to his home in Waikato.

The three new cases are an adult and two children, one of whom was symptomatic while at Mangatangi School on the Hauraki Plains last week. The school has now closed, parents and students are being tested and the three household contacts are being moved to quarantine.

The new cases are a late curve-ball for the Cabinet which meets today to confirm its in-principle decision to move Auckland out of lockdown from 11.59pm tomorrow.

The latest Ministry of Health locations of interest - released this morning - reveal that an infected person was out and about in the community as late as Saturday afternoon.

A positive Covid person was at the Palm Super Mart, in Manurewa, from 11.30am to 1.30pm.

Anyone who was at the shop is being told to stay home and to get a test immediately.

Could Auckland and Waikato move to level 3?

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says the Ministry of Health will today provide advice on whether Auckland and Waikato might both move to alert level 3.

Waikato district mayor Allan Sanson said the new cases were "a bugger all right".

He said he would be contacting the Prime Minister's office this morning for an explanation as to exactly how a remand prisoner was brought into the region during a pandemic. "How the heck did they ever remand somebody into the Waikato out of Auckland - I cannot believe that."

Asked on TVNZ how a remand prisoner within an alert level 4 boundary could be moved into an alert level 2 house, Grant Robertson said: "It's the decision of the court."

He said that it was not unusual for that to happen. For example, people in MIQ in Auckland could go home to an alert level 2 region.

Robertson said when the person returned to Auckland for their next court appearance, they were tested as part of Corrections protocols, not because they were showing symptoms. Exactly when and where the person got the virus was now being investigated, he said.

He told Mike Hosking he was not freaked out by the Waikato situation but it needed to be managed. Officials had good information about the prisoner's movements, which were very limited.

"As long as we can connect it to one of the existing clusters" it would not affect today's decision. "We'll take a look at that - more information will emerge" throughout the day, Robertson said.

Asked on TVNZ how a remand prisoner within an alert level 4 boundary could be moved into an alert level 2 house, Robertson said: "It's the decision of the court."

He said that it was not necessarily unusual for that to happen. For example, people in MIQ in Auckland could go home to an alert level 2 region.

Robertson said if officials could link the new cases to an existing cluster, it meant the situation was under control.

Asked whether the new situation might mean Auckland would stay in alert level 4, he said "not necessarily."

Robertson told Hosking he did not agree that any move to level 3 for Auckland from midnight tomorrow meant the elimination strategy was over. There were still significant restrictions at that level - "it's a recognition that we believe we don't have uncontrolled transmission if we move to level 3."

The "Delta effect" meant more people in households were getting infected. "It is so transmissible but the advice we continue to get from public health officials is they're optimistic we have got this under control, albeit with a long tail."

New Waikato cases

One of the three new cases is a child who was symptomatic while at Mangatangi School on Thursday.

The school sits outside of Auckland's level 4 boundary - on the western side of the Firth of Thames just north of Maramarua - and leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says officials may also now look at whether the Waikato region has to move up to alert level 3, at least, as a result of the new cases.

The three new cases bring the total announced on Sunday to 27. At least three of them are unlinked to the existing outbreak, not including the positive trio in Waikato.

All of the Covid-19 cases in the outbreak were restricted to Auckland until the three new Waikato cases were announced by the Ministry of Health on Sunday evening.

Two of the three new Waikato cases - who are all in the same household - attend Mangatangi School on the Hauraki Plains. All three positive cases, and an accompanying adult caregiver, are being moved to a quarantine facility.

The school has been closed and parents have been contacted. Arrangements are being made for the students and their families to be tested.

There are nine people in the household. Five others have tested negative and the ninth household member will be tested today.

The prisoner linked to the household was released on e-monitored bail from Mt Eden Prison on September 8 to a residence in the Firth of Thames.

Electronic monitoring shows the man remained at the property from September 8 until he self-reported to police at the East Coast Road boundary checkpoint at Waharau Regional Park.

The prisoner was held in custody in a cell before appearing in the Manukau District Court on Friday. He later tested positive for Covid-19.

A pop-up testing centre will be set up today at the Wharekawa Marae in Whakatīwai.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says the three new cases in Waikato are "very frustrating" - and now complicates things as Auckland waits to see today if it will come out of alert level 4 from midnight tomorrow.

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast, Baker said the cases - including the prisoner who tested positive for the virus late last week - now threatened that move down in alert levels.

Immunologist Dianne Sika-Paotonu reiterated that concern, saying she believed the new cases now meant it looked unlikely that Auckland would move out of level 4.

Baker said: "It's a sad reminder of how infectious this virus is."

Baker acknowledged how tough people were doing it - especially those on the fringe of the city.

He acknowledged the students caught up in the new cases in Waikato and how that was concerning, given they would have been at school in alert level 2 - when restrictions were much more relaxed.

"We just need ... this one big final push to stamp [this] out."

Sika-Paotonu said even with the new cases popping up outside of Auckland, she believed officials would not have agreed for Auckland to drop alert levels. "I still think it would've been unlikely."

It showed the virus had spread outside of Auckland, she told Breakfast.

Any locals with symptoms are being encouraged to get tested.

Modeler Shaun Hendy said while we were assuming the remand prisoner had brought it in from Auckland to Waikato, it might be that the children had caught it from the community and taken it home. There was certainly a chance those children had spread it to other people, he told The AM Show.

Hendy warned if the spread in the Waikato did kick off and there had been transmission for the a week or more then "we could be looking at another few hundred cases". He said sometimes you did get lucky and avoided super-spreader events.

But Robertson said there appeared to be an epidemiological link from the prisoner to another cluster and it certainly wouldn't have started with the children at the school. There was no evidence that the school itself or the community itself had Covid.

He said it was a rather isolated community just 5km across the boundary. He said he hadn't received any advice about whether that area needed to move alert levels this morning.

Epidemiologist Rod Jackson told The AM Show it was the people breaking the rules who were the worry at the moment and it depended on whether the government had a good handle on where these infected people had been.

Jackson said New Zealand has stamped Covid out before - but not the more infectious Delta variant. "I just keep coming back to we all have to get vaccinated. It's the only way out of Delta."

Jackson said it was about "test. test. test" because the kids in Waikato had almost certainly spread it to other kids. "In the short term it was all about testing and finding out far it had spread. He believed the border needed to be expanded to include the Kaiaua community and perhaps even further.

School closes after new cases

A message on Mangatangi School's Facebook page on Sunday afternoon said it had "informal notification" of a positive Covid case in its school community and will close today.

"The public health unit are urgently completing Covid testing," principal Christine West said in the post.

She said the school's Board of Trustees decided to close the school on Monday in the interest of tamariki, whanau and staff, and urged anyone who had symptoms to get tested.

The post was taken down shortly afterwards.

Mangatangi School is a small rural school and had 109 students on its roll at its last Education Review Office report in 2020.

The school is in an alert level 2 area and had been open to students.

Posts and comments on a community Facebook page for the area said the child's family was getting heckled at their home, with many calling for support for the family.

The principal of nearby Maramarua School, Andre van Schalkwyk, has asked parents to keep their children at home and get tested if they are feeling unwell or showing any symptoms.

The new cases come as the Government is due to make a decision on Auckland's lockdown rules today.

Cabinet ministers face one of their most difficult decisions of the pandemic, a top epidemiologist says, with the wrong call posing the potential for a Sydney-style flare-up.

After nearly five weeks in lockdown, Aucklanders will today learn whether the Government will stick to the in-principle decision it made to move the city down to level 3, and the rest of the country back to less restrictive level 2 settings, at midnight tomorrow.

Vaccine bookings

Nikki Turner says 78 per cent of eligible people booked in to get a vaccine is "a good number. We're actually doing really well".

But the director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre told Mike Hosking it would get harder and harder to get more people vaccinated.

The next 5-6 per cent of people would be OK but then some real "legwork" would be needed to get to hard-to-reach communities.

She respected people's rights "to some extent" but said they had to be balanced with the rights of the community.

There was always a lot of misinformation about immunisation but social media meant that misinformation now created its own echo chamber.

There were always a few "anti-hero" people who enjoyed the attention but their voices were now amplified.

"I think the problem is people tend to think where there's smoke there's fire."

Each anecdote about a possible adverse reaction made it a little harder for hesitant people to get their vaccine.

The best way forward was to normalise getting the jab - not coming out with "sticks and sanctions" which polarised people and created a kickback effect. Vaccinations had become a political football in the USA when really every country in the world had a vaccine programme.

Community worried

Local MP Scott Simpson told Kate Hawkesby the small rural community is worried by the news that's come through overnight.

"People are naturally worried. Mangatangi is a small community, a tight-knit community, a community that cares and looks after itself, but people are naturally worried and very concerned.

"This case is one that has caused concern. People in the area as to their own wellbeing, but also what it might mean for the rest of the country."

Simpson says people should follow public health advice and take advantage of the pop-up testing centre being set up at Wharekawa Marae in Whakatīwai this morning.

"Anyone who is feeling unwell or has symptoms or wants to get tested - my advice is absolutely do get tested."