Tot by 100 New Zealanders may have already been infected with the Delta variant before the first positive community case was announced on Tuesday, modelling exercises have predicted.
Health officials are combing through the details of trans-Tasman arrivals to try to discover how the coronavirus that caused an outbreak in Sydney has led to a cluster of community cases in Auckland, with the nation on its second day of a snap lockdown.
By Thursday there were 10 cases of the Delta variant in the community and genome sequencing had linked the case to New South Wales. The first case, a 58-year-old man from Auckland, emerged on Tuesday, prompting the government to put the entire country into a level 4 lockdown – the highest level of restrictions. Since then eight more cases have been linked with the man, including a teacher and a nurse, and another unlinked case is an Air Nieu-Seeland cabin crew worker picked up through routine testing.
The Ministry of Health has updated its list of locations – including a nightclub that 900 people attended, a church that has a congregation from across the city, shopping malls, a university and Auckland city hospital. The locations of interest date back to 3 Augustus, raising concerns that the virus may have been circulating for weeks.
Die eerste minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that case A, the 58-year-old man, was not the index case and genome sequencing was yet to link his case, and those linked to him, to the border. “There is more to be done to help piece together this puzzle," sy het gese.
She warned there would be more cases, given the activity of those infected.
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said two different modelling exercises could put the number of people already infected between 50 en 120. One of the expert modellers, Shaun Hendy, told the Spinoff he had since revised that figure down to 100, which was not an indication of how many people would become infected, but a prediction of how many people already were before the lockdown.
“That’s just giving people a sense of the scale here, and that is specifically with the Delta variant considered in there,” Bloomfield said.
The government closed the trans-Tasman bubble aan 25 July after the outbreak in New South Wales. Anyone returning from New South Wales was required to go to into quarantine. Travellers from Victoria were required to self-isolate for three days and produce two negative tests. But New Zealanders returning from other parts of Australia were given a week-long grace period to return without having to isolate. Those travellers were required to have a pre-departure test before arrival but the emergence of the virus has raised questions over whether that line of defence was breached.
Ardern said there was 100% compliance with the rules made on the closure of the bubble, but despite this health officials would be producing a list of all arrivals from Australia into New Zealand during that period and contacting them again.
On Thursday morning, Bloomfield told RNZ the coronavirus had not been picked up in routine wastewater testing over the past few weeks, aside from near the Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland.
Under level four, all New Zealanders other than essential workers are asked to stay home and shelter in place, leaving the house only for essentials such as food, medical supplies, medical care and socially distanced outdoor exercise. They are to remain within a “bubble” of immediate household members and dependants. The initial announcement of that lockdown was for three days nationwide, and for four to seven days for Auckland and Coromandel. It may be extended, depending on whether health officials can identify a source of the virus from the border, or how many additional cases are detected.
Health officials will be advising the government about further lockdown measures on Friday.
“Our aim of course is to have as short a possible lockdown. But it is so important in this situation that you go into lockdown arrangements quickly and you don’t lift them too early,” Bloomfield said.
Officials have also advised New Zealanders to scan QR codes into a contact-tracing app. Anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate and contact medical authorities about testing. The government has released a list of “locations of interest” online – anyone who has attended those locations at the stated times is advised to call Healthline on 0800 611 116.