Live updates, March 7: Airline crew member tests positive for Covid-19

All the major news events, which will hopefully not be too many. Auckland is now at alert level two, NZ at level one. Get in touch at info@thespinoff.co.nz 

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7.15pm: Airline crew member tests positive for Covid-19

An airline crew member has tested positive for Covid-19 during routine surveillance testing, the Ministry of Health has announced.

The person returned to New Zealand from Japan one week ago, on February 28, and returned a negative test. On routine testing today, however, they returned a positive result and has been moved to Auckland’s quarantine facility. Their three household family members have been tested today and the results are all negative.

The only flights between Japan and Auckland running currently are operated by Air New Zealand.

Fourteen other air crew on the same journey as the latest case are in the process of being contacted, isolated and retested, said the Ministry of Health in a media release.

The initial public health assessment is there is a low risk to the public due to Auckland being at alert level three for the period in which this case was back in New Zealand.

There is currently one location of interest – the Auckland Airport Countdown on March 3 between 12.07pm and 1.22pm. Anyone who was at the store at this time is asked to monitor their health for the next 10 days (until March 17). If they feel unwell or develop symptoms, they should contact Healthline on 0800 358 5454, and get tested and stay at home until a negative test result is received.

The person also attended a health appointment that is currently being assessed, said the ministry. “All those attending the same clinic at the same time are being identified and will be contacted and provided specific health advice.”

The latest case was a frequent user of the Covid Tracer app, said the ministry, “which is aiding the public health staff to identify potential exposure events and assess any risks from their activities”.

Specific advice will be provided to people identified as contacts by public health staff. Results from genome sequencing are expected on Tuesday and will help rule out any local transmission. A further update will be provided tomorrow.

Rules for air crew

As of October last year, all overseas-based air crew transiting through New Zealand must stay in a managed isolation facility for the duration of their layover. New Zealand-based crew returning via a “high-risk route” – currently Los Angeles and San Francisco – must stay in a managed isolation facility for 48 hours.

Other New Zealand-based air crew are exempt from managed isolation as long as they meet certain requirements, such as weekly tests, wearing PPE and distancing from others. While staying overseas, the air crew are allowed to leave their room only for very limited purposes, such as to exercise at their accommodation (but not in a gym or pool), to access medical services or to get food from a place within their accommodation.

1.05pm: No new community cases for seventh day straight

It’s now been a full week since we had a case of Covid-19 in the community.

Today’s release from the Ministry of Health reported no new community cases as Auckland moved down to level two and the rest of the country to level one. “While it’s encouraging to see another day without any community cases, we must all remain vigilant and continue to do our bit,” said the release.

“This includes staying home if you have any symptoms; if symptomatic phoning Healthline for advice on getting a test – wherever you are in the country; and keeping a record of where you have been at all times.

“The Covid Tracer app is an easy way to do this. Please continue to scan QR codes wherever you go and turn on Bluetooth tracing in the app dashboard if you haven’t already done so. Continue to wash your hands, and cough or sneeze into your elbow.”

There is one new Covid-19 case detected in managed isolation, an arrival from South Africa via Qatar who tested positive on routine day one testing.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand is now 72, with the total number of confirmed cases 2,043.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,779,213. On Saturday, 6,733 tests were processed. The total number of tests in the last seven days is 71,831.  The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 10,262 tests processed.

Since January 1, there have now been 37 historical cases, out of a total of 233 cases.

More than 68,000 new users have signed up to the Covid Tracer app in the past 14 days, bringing the total to 2,736,807. Poster scans have reached 209,842,881, users have created 8,247,078 manual diary entries. There have been 1,496,777 scans in the last 24 hours.

10.45am: National calls for inquiry into Valentine’s Day cluster

The National Party is calling for an inquiry into the latest community Covid-19 outbreak that resulted in two level three lockdowns for Auckland.

In a press release sent this morning, National leader Judith Collins said the inquiry should cover the performance of contract tracing; communication of public health messaging; whether the testing regime met expectations; if saliva or antigen testing should be used more fully, and the legality of orders issued around testing and self-isolation.

In the release, Collins criticised the decision to move Auckland out of level three in February after three days, which “has since resulted in a week long lockdown for Auckland”. “These lockdowns are costing the economy half a billion dollars each week.”

The government has defended the decision to not extend the three-day lockdown, as the exposure that resulted in the outbreak spreading was a result of level three breaches during the lockdown, rather than occurring after it ended.

Collins said public health messaging needed to improve, referencing the controversy over advice given to Case L, who went to work at KFC when she should have been in self-isolation. The government said she had been told this; the woman herself said she hadn’t. “This has highlighted the lack of urgency shown by the Ministry of Health to follow up on unanswered texts or calls,” said Collins.

She also criticised the management of the domestic border, with long queues seen at airports last weekend as people tried to get back to Auckland.

10.30am: What about kids? New report calls for Covid policy to centre children’s rights

In news I’m sure will delight Auckland parents who have just spent a week relishing every minute of forced confinement with their little treasures, today is Children’s Day. 

All jokes aside, growing up in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t ideal, and the Children’s Convention Monitoring Group has today released a report assessing agency responses since Covid-19 arrived in Aotearoa a year ago.

Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft says the report, “Children’s rights in the Covid-19 response“, highlights the need to centre children’s rights in all government planning, especially if we are to be prepared for future shocks and crises.

“Covid-19 should be the reason to do more for children,” said Becroft in a statement. “New Zealand now has an opportunity to apply the lessons learned over the past year, to redesign our systems to tackle the big issues facing children and young people both in times of crisis and not. 

Becroft is calling on the government to make child impact assessments mandatory, “so all policy and legislation is designed around the rights and wellbeing of children”.

“They have the biggest stake in any plans for the future, and their rights and interests should be baked into all policy or planning,” he said.

9.45am: No new community cases overnight; more to be revealed on vaccine programme early next week – Hipkins

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed there were no new community Covid-19 cases overnight, good news as we move down alert levels.

Hipkins shared the news on TVNZ 1’s Q&A this morning, where he also revealed we’re likely to learn who in the community will be first in line to be vaccinated early next week.

Families of border workers and frontline health workers began receiving the jab this week, but it still isn’t clear who’s up next. There have been calls for the South Auckland community to be prioritised, given the last two outbreaks have been centred there.

Hipkins said negotiations with pharmaceutical companies have slowed down making the decision, as there is evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine is not suitable for over-65s. New Zealand has secured four vaccines but so far only the Pfizer vaccine is here – the third shipment arrived last week. Hipkins said more would be known about what vaccines are arriving when early next week.

8.30am: The day ahead

Mōrena! Much of the country has awoken to alert level one – ie pretty much normality – and Auckland to level two – ie not quite normality but a hell of a lot more normal than level three. Expect socially distanced queues outside cafes as Aucklanders make a return to the age-old Sunday morning ritual of brunch (with distanced tables, table service only and one server per table). Also, church (with a limit of 100 people).

Whatever you get up to today, remember to scan in with the Covid Tracer app, wear a mask on public transport, stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands et cetera et cetera.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will be appearing on TVNZ 1’s Q&A shortly (9am) to share the latest, including whether there were new cases overnight; and any news on the vaccine rollout.

At around 1pm, there will be an emailed media release from the Ministry of Health informing us of anything else we need to know, eg new cases (fingers cross for a seventh day of zero in the community).

Oh, and at 12pm the Black Caps men’s cricket team take on Australia in the fifth T20 at Sky Stadium in Wellington. The Black Caps won the first two but were hammered in the third and fourth matches in the capital during the week, both of which were played to an empty stadium due to alert level two restrictions. Let’s hope a crowd of raucous Wellingtonians can turn things around. That match will be immediately followed by the White Ferns women’s team taking on England. The men’s game is live on Spark Sport, with the women’s game free to air on TVNZ 1.




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