The top of Northland will go into alert level 3 tonight after fears of undetected community transmission of Covid-19.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said despite extensive contact tracing, no epidemiological link had been found in the new cases in Northland today in Taipa.
The two new cases had not been near other locations where cases were, or come into contact with any other cases.
He said that meant there was a possibility of an undetected link in the chain of transmission.
The northern part of Northland would move to level 3 from 11.59pm tonight until at least Monday night, he said.
The region is currently in alert level 2, having moved out of level 3 on October 19.
To minimise disruption a boundary would be erected through the Hokianga Harbour across to Kaeo, Hipkins said.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the boundary was set by the Prime Minister’s office in consultation with locals and local iwi.
Extensive testing in the meantime would be aimed at looking for any missing links to the cases.
Hipkins said Ardern was not in the region affected by the lockdown – she was further south. Ardern visited vaccination centres in the area today.
Using a more localised lockdown had been used in Waikato previously as well, he said.
Hipkins noted Northland had a low level of vaccination and that made the risk of an outbreak that much greater.
He said at 79 per cent on first doses, it was the region which had the most doses still to go to get to 90 per cent.
He said Northland was still 17,120 doses short of reaching the 90 per cent target.
He echoed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s words that the outbreak could not stay contained in Auckland forever.
“It is the fact it is an unlinked case and there is no clear or even probable source of infection,” Hipkins said.
He said while a link was looked for, and checks to ensure there was no wider undetected transmission, the lockdown was needed.
“There will be potentially missing links out there, potentially still infectious.”
Hipkins said if Northland was sittting at 89 per cent “we might be having a different conversation.”
He said parts of Northland were also more vulnerable, and there was more reliance on septic tanks which made other forms of surveillance, such as waste water testing, less effective.
He said the cases had provided QR code records.
Bloomfield said there had been good use of the app by the case who had been out and about in Kaitaia, and there were good records of their movements.
Bloomfield said the only other contact who had tested positive so far was the first case’s household contact.
“There was some debate about the need to increase the alert level, but the origin of these cases is unknown. We are still trying to eliminate the virus outside of Auckland so our advice was a short period at level 3 to allow for more testing.”
Bloomfield said there had already been significant testing in Northland this morning and an “extra surge” would go in over the next few days.
He said the DHB and iwi providers were already using mobile vaccination clinics.
He said the first of the two unlinked cases came through in yesterday’s update, and the second person – a household contact – came through in today’s numbers.
Just over 1,120 tests were done across Northland on Monday and 1,161 vaccinations were given.
Hokianga and Kaitaia have fewer than half of the population with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
There have been three confirmed locations of interest related to the Kaitaia cases.
•Farmers, Kaitaia, on October 29, from 12.21 pm – 1.30 pm
• Bells Produce, Kaitaia, on October 30, from 11.55 am – 12.05 pm
• Awanui Hotel, on October 31, from 5.30 pm – 7.30 pm
If you were at any of these locations of interest at the relevant times you should self-monitor for Covid-19 symptoms for 14 days after you were potentially exposed.
The Ministry of Health has responded to local frustrations over its practise of identifying cases as being present in the region, rather than identifying particular towns.
A ministry spokesman said the Ministry of Health keeps under review the level of information provided centrally as part of the Covid-19 response, as well as the level of information provided locally by DHBs.
”The Ministry acknowledges the feedback that the Northland DHB is a large region, and the local health response could benefit by providing more specific information when announcing cases in the region,” the spokesman said on Tuesday.
”As a result, today, we confirmed the most recent Northland case as being in Kaitaia and we note the DHB confirmed yesterday’s case was also from Kaitaia. The Ministry supports DHBs in releasing information in support of their local health response, including to encourage testing in particular areas.”
Ardern visited the region today to promote the vaccinations campaign. She was forced to abruptly end a press conference in Northland after being heckled by at least two people – one of whom was claiming to be a journalist.
Ardern was answering questions from reporters outside, saying that she had seen multiple people getting vaccinated. She was being heckled throughout the press conference by a female member of the public, as well as having her answers interrupted by a man claiming to be a journalist.
“Sir I will shut down the press conference if this continues,” Ardern told the man at one point during the exchange.
The man continued interrupting, asking Ardern “why is the vaccine not working in Israel? And you are still pushing it”.
Ardern then told him he was being rude, to which the man responded: “It’s rude to lie to the public of New Zealand.”
Northland is the second-lowest vaccinated region in the country – 79 per cent of its population has had a first dose and 65 per cent a second dose.
Today, there were 126 cases of Covid-19 in the community today. Auckland has 107 new cases, there is one new case in Northland and Canterbury has no new cases today. The one new Northland case today is out of Kaitaia and is a household member of a case announced yesterday.
18 new cases were reported in Waikato.
The 18 new Waikato cases include six in Hamilton, five in Te Awamutu/Kihikihi, four in Ōtorohanga, two in Ngāruawahia, and one in Kawhia.
All cases have been epidemiologically linked. Fourteen of the 18 cases were already in isolation, having been contacts of previous cases.
The Ministry is also aware of a small number of Covid-19 cases in Auckland in Corrections custody.
These people were exposed to Covid-19 prior to coming into custody and are being managed appropriately to avoid any potential for the virus to spread to the prison population. There is no evidence of in-facility transmission to date.
Two further staff members at Edmonton Meadows care home in the Auckland suburb of Henderson have now tested positive for Covid-19.
The total number of active cases linked to the home is now 12.
A mobile testing unit is at the facility today.
Two residents continue to receive care at North Shore Hospital, and the cause of the cluster remains unknown.
A total of 49 people are in hospital today, down from 53 yesterday. There are three patients currently in ICU or a high-dependency unit.
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