A new community case in Auckland today has prompted the announcement that the city is to return to alert level three, and the rest of the country level two, from 6am on Sunday. Here’s the latest.
Auckland is to move to alert level three from 6am on Sunday, February 28. The rest of the country will move to alert level two. The announcement was made by prime minister Jacinda Ardern at a media conference tonight, where she was joined by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
The alert level change will be in effect for a week, the PM said, which at this stage means until 5.59am on Sunday, March 7.
While acknowledging that many people will be out socialising tonight, Ardern encouraged Aucklanders to move to “level three behaviours” as soon as they are able.
Bugger. Those lights shouldn’t be on on a Saturday night… 😬 pic.twitter.com/psy679ALrJ
— ᴅʀ ᴅᴇᴀɴ ᴋɴɪɢʜᴛ (@drdeanknight) February 27, 2021
What does level three mean for Auckland?
Having only just emerged from the last level three lockdown on February 17, Aucklanders are likely familiar with the rules. Here’s a quick explainer if you need one. Aucklanders will need to work from home this week wherever possible and children will stay home from school.
The border around Auckland will be re-established and workers will require evidence of permitted activity or an MBIE-issued exemption in order to leave. Travel documents that were issued earlier this month remain valid.
Under level three, venues are closed and public events are canceled. Events under way in Auckland tonight include boxing at Spark Arena and the speedway at Western Springs. Tomorrow’s scheduled Round the Bays will not go ahead. The Auckland Arts Festival was to have launched on Thursday. Next weekend the America’s Cup proper was set to begin, and the Outer Fields festival was scheduled for Western Springs. The planned T20 internationals will no longer be held at Eden Park on Friday.
And for the rest of the country?
Under level two, gatherings are restricted to no more than 100 people, including for weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihangahe. This means a number of major events scheduled for this week will need to be canceled or held in empty venues, such as the Black Caps / White Ferns double-headers which are to go ahead without a crowd at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
Crowded House’s long-awaited reunion tour was scheduled to kick off on Thursday in Hamilton before heading to Napier for shows on Saturday and Sunday night. The Hamilton show and the Saturday night Napier show are now unable to go ahead.
All of tomorrow’s events at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival have been cancelled.
The new case is a 21-year-old man whose symptoms began on 23 February with a fever and weakness, then developed loss of taste and smell the next day. He went to a GP yesterday afternoon for a Covid test, and afterwards went to the gym. The Ministry of Health judges that he has been infectious since last weekend.
Case M is a student at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) and also works part-time, one day a week, at Kerry Logistics (Oceania) Limited, which is located at the airport. The case had been to a number of “well-populated sites” during his infectious period, Bloomfield said. Details of those locations of interest are below.
The new case, known as “Case M”, is a sibling of a student at Papatoetoe High School, which is linked to the existing outbreak that was first identified on Valentine’s Day. Critically, however, that student has tested negative three times, which means there is a real possibility that Case M contracted Covid-19 from another source. An important factor in deciding to change alert levels is the risk of undetected chains of transmission.
Cabinet met this afternoon after the new case was detected and decided that an alert level change was warranted.
Tonight Ardern expressed frustration that rules had not always been followed in the latest outbreak: “People who should have been in isolation, weren’t.”
This included the latest case, who had not followed medical advice to isolate until the results of his test were known. “Obviously in this case, despite that communication over what was expected, that has not occurred here.”
However she also noted that humans make mistakes and the country won’t succeed if “we turn on one another”. She said the public should keep in mind that “we are dealing with young people”.
Another person in the household of Case M has also now returned a positive result. The latest case, known as Case N, is Case M’s mother and is currently asymptomatic. The three other members of the household have returned negative tests. All family members are isolating.
Locations of interest
Ardern said there were “a number of high risk locations involved with this case”. They included a gym and the Manukau Institute of Technology.
The locations of interest that have so far been officially listed relating to the new case are:
Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), February 22, 25, 26
Hunter Plaza, February 26
Burger King, Highland Park, February 25
Your Health Pharmacy, February 23
Pak n Save Manakau, February 21
These are expected to be updated in the coming hours.
Specific details and courses of action for those who may be affected can be found on the Ministry of Health website.
New testing centres and hours
Additional community testing centres are available in Auckland this weekend, many with extended hours. These are in Otara, Botany, Pakuranga Heights, Balmoral, Henderson and Northcote.
In East Auckland, a testing centre at Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga Heights, will be open from 8am – 4pm Sunday. The Botany testing centre at Golflands will be open from 9am – 5pm Sunday. Up to date information on testing locations and hours in Auckland can be found here and, for nationwide testing locations, here.
‘This is the right move’ – Covid modelling expert
There were “two key factors” in making the decision tonight, said Professor Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, and a key figure in New Zealand Covid modelling. “One is that there is currently no established link between the new case and the existing Papatoetoe cluster. The second is that the new case has likely been infectious since 21 February and has visited a number of popular locations in the community.”
He added: “Together these two factors mean there’s a high chance there are other cases we don’t know yet about, and they have potentially been out in the community for some time. It’s highly likely these new cases are the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant, which means the outbreak has the potential to spread faster. For these reasons, a seven-day period at level three makes sense. This will give our testing and contact tracing system the time they need to track down any extra cases and shut off chains of transmission. As frustrating as it is, this is the right move to keep Auckland and New Zealand safe.”
Auckland business group reacts
“It is frustrating and a blow to recovery, but we will rally and accept the help put in place to save jobs,” said Michael Barnett, CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber.
“Businesses will be eligible for both the wage subsidy and the resurgence payments to mitigate some of the costs and liabilities from having to limit activities for the next week in such short order even though we all could see the warning signs. If you had a travel permit to cross the border from last time, it will still apply.”
He added: “The sooner everyone follows the rules with no exceptions, and understands that stay at home means exactly that, the sooner Auckland can get back on track and reclaim our lives and livelihoods.”
Collins calls for tougher penalties for rule breakers
“We need to consider tougher penalties against those who are not following public health advice around isolation and testing,” said National Party leader Judith Collins in a statement. “No one wants to be yo-yoing in and out lockdown. National said the decision to go out of level three on February 17 was a bold and ambitious call. At the time we still didn’t know the source of the original case, there were two new community cases of the more transmissible strain that day, and not all of the high school students had been tested. Now Auckland is back in lockdown with all the consequences that brings.”
She added: “All New Zealanders will be frustrated at the level of non-compliance. Relying on people to do the right thing looks to have reached its limits and we may need tougher penalties to make sure everyone follows the rules.”
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