PM: Auckland's move to level 1 all but confirmed

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Feb 2021, 9:09AM
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

PM: Auckland's move to level 1 all but confirmed

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Feb 2021, 9:09AM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's not aware of any Covid-19 updates from overnight but said more than 70,000 Kiwis had been tested.

Ardern told TVNZ that bar anything significant, Auckland would move down to alert level 1.

"The decision to keep Auckland in Level 2 was precautionary."

Ardern said she preferred to step down from alert levels rather than make a leap.

Extra testing numbers gave reassurance as did waste water testing, even if they hadn't been able to determine the source of the latest outbreak in Auckland, Ardern said.

"Bar anything significant coming through I have an expectation we will move down alert levels."

The decision to move to Level 2 was based on advice from medical experts including Dr Ashley Bloomfield and not so much based on Cabinet, Ardern said.

She didn't believe people should have been surprised at their response, given at that point they weren't sure which variant they were dealing with.

"That was us being really cautious."

A top epidemiologist is confident Auckland is ready for the freedoms of alert level 1 with the Government set to announce its decision this afternoon.

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says there is positive evidence that the city's latest community outbreak is contained.

And while he believes Auckland is ready to shift down an alert level, he's also calling for the country's alert level system to be revised.

Ardern will make the announcement at a post-Cabinet press conference in Christchurch this afternoon, where she is attending the national memorial service for the anniversary of the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

The Government will also review continued mandatory mask use on public transport across the country today.

Three people in one family tested positive on February 13 - among them a Year 9 student at Papatoetoe High School who passed the virus onto her classmate. That student then infected three of her family members and all are now in quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel.

More than 71,600 tests have been processed since last Sunday - but only seven cases outside of managed isolation have been identified.

And there is a clear chain of transmission between the cases with genomic testing confirming they're all the same strain.

Baker said there is "very positive" evidence that the Auckland outbreak is contained.

"There's no absolute guarantees that we won't see more cases but the indication is very positive," he said.

"I think it is at a point where Auckland could consider a shift down to alert level 1."

However, he said the country's alert levels should be "fine-tuned" and include additional levels.

"It's almost a year since we first saw the virus in New Zealand and the alert level system worked very well when we were using it control that first wave of the pandemic," he said.

"We still only have one level, which is level 2, before we go to level 1 which is really no controls at all except on the border. I think we need to have two more levels in there to make the system much more targeted."

What goes into making an alert level decision?

When making today's decision, Cabinet will consider the advice on health risks from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield alongside the latest case numbers, contact tracing, geographical distribution of the infections and whether the outbreak can be connected to the border.

Ministers will also assess the economic and societal effects of an alert level change.

In advice to Cabinet on Wednesday on lifting Auckland out of its sharp 72-hour lockdown, Bloomfield and his officials deemed the outbreak to be well-contained.

But the source of the outbreak is still a mystery.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has previously said they might never find conclusive evidence of how the outbreak started.

The mother's workplace - LSG Sky Chefs - which does laundry for international flights has an obvious link to the border but the most likely scenario is human-to-human infection.

The entire LSG workforce has now been tested and all - bar the mother - have tested negative.

Apart from the two infected families, testing at Papatoetoe High School has so far returned no other positive cases.

The school is set to reopen today with all staff and students requiring a negative test before returning.

Principal Vaughan Couillault said he expects all students and staff to be at school today bar the 41 who are still awaiting negative results.

He said health authorities had gone through the school community "with a fine-tooth comb".

"We've identified where Covid is and where it isn't. And where it isn't is on my school grounds anymore and you're perfectly safe to come back to school."