Northland Covid case: South African variant identified, but 'encouraging' signs

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 12:56PM

Northland Covid case: South African variant identified, but 'encouraging' signs

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 12:56PM

The Covid-19 community case in Northland is the South African strain, Covid recovery minister Chris Hipkins says.

The South African variant is more infectious than the original strain of coronavirus.

"The source of the infection is high likely to be a fellow returnee during the person's stay at the Pullman Hotel," Hipkins said.

"This is good news because it means we know where the source of infection is and we don't have to divert our scientists and health experts from other Covid-related work."

The community case - a 56-year-old woman who lives south of Whangarei - was in managed isolation in the Pullman Hotel.

Bloomfield said the community case had not flagged respiratory symptoms. The woman reported chills but not a runny nose or a cough.

Travellers who stayed in MIQ at Auckland's Pullman Hotel from January 9-24 are being asked to self-isolate "immediately", Hipkins said.

Hipkins said of the 253 returnees that exited the hotel within the new infection window 172 had been contacted by 8am.

The person officials believe passed on the infection to the community case arrived in New Zealand on the 9th of January.

CCTV footage from the hotel is being reviewed to look for interaction, Hipkins said.

Returnees at Pullman Hotel kept in MIQ longer

It has been decided this morning to delay the release of people staying at the Pullman, Hipkins said.

46 people are impacted by that decision, he said.

Of approximately 220 staff at the Pullman staff, 114 have been tested this week, he said.

The latest community case was in managed isolation at Auckland's Pullman Hotel earlier this month. Photo /  Peter Meecham.

The latest community case was in managed isolation at Auckland's Pullman Hotel earlier this month. Photo / Peter Meecham.

The remainder of tests will be completed by 4pm.

Hipkins said he is getting further advice about possibly restricting returnee movements in the final stage of their managed isolation.

Others over the past few days in managed isolation have tested positive late in their stay, Bloomfield said.

Hipkins said he had previously been advised it was not justified to ask people to self-isolate after they leave managed isolation.

Asking whether or not the number of returnees should be limited from some countries, Hipkins said "people are waiting a long time to get home."

There was an emergency allocation amount but that was in huge demand, he said, with many applications being declined.

Long waits for testing in Northland

Asked about the delay Bloomfield said there would be testing waits in some places. There were 17 sites up and running in the region which were swabbing people for Covid.

Long queues formed at testing stations in Kamo. Photo / Karina Cooper

Long queues formed at testing stations in Kamo. Photo / Karina Cooper

"We want people to be tested."

Bloomfield said there was always an increase in the volume of people waiting for tests when something like this happened.

He recommended people took water with them and something to eat.

Infographics on Facebook had been circulated about a lockdown on Facebook which was fake, Hipkins said.

He urged people to only share information they knew was true.

People should not underestimate the ability for fake news to do real harm, he said.

"It's good people share news about Covid-19. Just make sure it's verified and accurate."

Bloomfield said contact tracing on the case has identified 15 people as close contacts

Thirteen of them worked in retail stores and it is not immediately clear who served the case, he said.

"All have been contacted."

Two of the woman's closest contacts - her husband and hairdresser - have returned negative tests which is "encouraging", he said.

"What we know so far is it may be more transmissible," he said of the South African variant.

"They are not confined to specific countries," Bloomfield said.

New forms or variants have become common around the world, he said.

He wanted to acknowledge the woman's frequent use of the scanning app.

"It has enabled us to follow up quickly anyone who may have had contact with her."

"I can't thank the person enough...remember this could be anyone at any time.

Bloomfield said yesterday that all businesses where the community cases have visited would be contacted before a full list of locations would be published.

Bloomfield today said that as many locations of interest as possible were contacted to alert them, he said.

"We were not able to get through to all of them", he said.

"[We] made the call to publish it all online with a push alert, he said.

Hipkins said there was some pressure to release the business list quickly.

Officials did take a reasonable amount of time but they had to draw a line under it at some point and make that publication in full online, he said.
If businesses have not been contacted they need to get in touch with health officials, he said.

Covid QR code scanning

On scanning, Hipkins said: "We are not asking you to do this because it is a fun thing to do."

"It does make an enormous difference."

Businesses need to check codes have not become too tatty to scan, he said.

Preferably businesses should have fresh QR codes up in a number of different places to make them easy to access, he said.

While showing someone to a table in hospitality, ask the customer if they have scanned in, Hipkins said.

As this particular case has shown it makes we can get ahead of any potential outbreak, he said.

More than 160 push notifications were sent to people on the app who had scanned in at locations that the community case was at.

Hipkins is yet to see any evidence that Waitangi events would be disrupted, he said.

He feels more optimistic about this today than he did yesterday.

Bloomfield said there is a group of senior officials reaching out to iwi hosting and involved with Waitangi celebrations.