Coronavirus: Two new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand

There are two new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed on Tuesday.

A previously confirmed case who has been isolating in the Wellington region is now considered recovered. The latest infections and new recovery brings New Zealand's active case total to 10 and the country's confirmed case total to 1165. One significant cluster remains open in Auckland.

On Monday, 4303 tests were processed nationwide, bringing the total number of processed tests to 348,822.

The two new cases are both men in their 20s. One returned to New Zealand from India on June 19, and has been staying in managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel. As per ministry protocol, he has since been moved to Auckland's Jet Park Hotel, which is operating as a quarantine facility.

The other man arrived from the US on flight NZ5 from Los Angeles on June 18. He tested positive for the virus while in quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel after displaying respiratory symptoms. He has been staying at the Jet Park Hotel since his arrival due to a mix-up at the airport, Dr Bloomfield said, where the man went in the wrong group.

Dr Bloomfield said the men were tested at around day three of their respective mandatory isolation periods and both had been presenting symptoms of the virus.

The recovered patient isolating in the Wellington region has returned a negative test result and has been asymptomatic for 48 hours, as per the Ministry of Health's guidelines. It has also been at least 10 days since the onset of their symptoms. 

Dr Bloomfield confirmed that new arrivals are undergoing health screening at the border, which comprises of "careful questions". Any symptomatic new arrivals are taken to Auckland's Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility and are tested. 

"The reason we don't test on arrival and we wait until day three of managed isolation is because that is about day five of many people's journeys... and we know that testing then is more likely to pick up infection than earlier testing, when people may be incubating the virus but will not test positive," he said, defending the lack of testing at Auckland Airport.

He added that a second test at day 12 "provides extra security" due to the high false negative rate of around 20 to 30 percent. 

Contact tracing following two positive tests last Tuesday

Dr Bloomfield also provided a comprehensive update regarding the ministry's contact tracing efforts following the two confirmed cases last Tuesday. The cases - two sisters - were granted an exemption from managed isolation at the Auckland Novotel Hotel to attend a funeral in Wellington. The women, who arrived from the UK on June 7, travelled to the capital in a private vehicle on June 13 and originally claimed not to have had contact with others on the drive - however, this was later disputed.

The women, who stayed with a relative in Wellington, were tested after arriving in the capital and both returned positive results, marking New Zealand's first new COVID-19 cases for roughly three weeks.

Dr Bloomfield said contact tracing efforts following their diagnosis have been focused on three key groups. The first group comprises of the 55 people who left managed isolation on compassionate exemptions between June 9 and June 16. These people either self-isolated in the community "under very strict criteria", Dr Bloomfield said, or were granted leave to visit various hospitals or hospices to see dying loved ones. One person from this group had not been located as of Monday - however, they have since been tracked down and testing has been arranged. 

The ministry has also been following up on a second group, which comprises of new arrivals staying at the Novotel who may have interacted with the women between June 6 and June 13. As of Monday, 11 individuals were outstanding out of the 190 returned New Zealanders. As of Tuesday, three have yet to be reached. Three have been visited by a community worker as of Tuesday morning, while five have been successfully contacted and referred for testing. As of Tuesday, just two staff members have yet to be reached from this group.

The third group has the ministry "casting the net wide", Dr Bloomfield said, as it comprises those who left managed isolation from other facilities between June 9 and June 16. There are 2159 people identified in this group, including those who received exemptions and those who stayed at the aforementioned Novotel for a portion of this period. The figure was deduced based on Healthline calls, made in addition to daily health checks by nurses. 

All 2159 people completed their 14 days of mandatory isolation, he confirmed, received health screening on departure and were offered testing. Dr Bloomfield says work is ongoing to contact all 2159 individuals. They will receive either a text or call - if they do not respond, the ministry will use location services - including police - to find an address. A health provider will be sent to follow up on the individual, or police will help to locate them.

"We are just following up as final precaution," Dr Bloomfield said.

If any new arrivals who completed managed isolation between June 9 and June 16 have not been contacted by the ministry, Dr Bloomfield urges them to contact the dedicated number 09 302 0408.

Prior to June 9, when the double-testing requirement was implemented, all new arrivals had completed their 14 days of managed isolation.

"New Zealand is one of a very small number of countries that not only includes 14 days of managed isolation, but also double-testing, before people are allowed in the community. This is consistent with international evidence that these people pose the lowest risk to the community," he reiterated.

Dr Bloomfield also touched on the rumours that a homeless man spent 14 days at a luxury Auckland hotel under the pretence of being a new arrival completing mandatory isolation.

The story was revealed by National's health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse last week - a rumour he said came from a reliable source. However, Dr Bloomfield noted that the story remains unverified and could be "an urban myth".