Coronavirus: New community case of COVID-19 in New Zealand

There is one new community case of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced at a rare Sunday media briefing.

The man is an employee of a company that works on-board vessels at the Ports of Auckland, but is not a Ports of Auckland staffer or contractor, according to a letter from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, which was obtained by Newshub on Sunday.

Within the last 14 days, the man had worked on two different vessels in Auckland and Taranaki. He most likely contracted the virus at the border and not from within the community, Dr Bloomfield told reporters.

The man returned a negative test from the Ports of Auckland on October 2, but developed respiratory symptoms on Friday, October 16. He was tested that day, and the positive result was returned on Saturday afternoon.

"This man has been diligent about getting his tests and has been tested fortnightly over the past few months," Dr Bloomfield said.

Dr Bloomfield said the infection was caught early and four household contacts are now self-isolating, two of which are the man's flatmates, who are at the Auckland quarantine facility. 

"We immediately put our contact tracing systems and testing into place to ensure there are not more cases associated with his man," he said, noting there is a "low-ish risk" of any further community transmission.

"Because he was tested the day he developed symptoms, we were able to move quickly.

"This case has been caught early and the risk of onward transmission is contained."

The man's movements

The man had worked on two ships in the last two weeks, Dr Bloomfield said. He worked on-board a vessel in New Plymouth on Wednesday, however health officials believe the other ship was "most likely" where he became infected.

"This is most likely a border-related case," he said.

The man was potentially infectious from Wednesday, October 14 to Thursday, October 15. However, he was largely at home on Thursday, and left his home once to pick up food.

On Tuesday, October 13, the man travelled to New Plymouth alone in his vehicle. While there, he checked into two accommodations on two different evenings. The rooms are being deep-cleaned and it's believed there are no close contacts at the establishments. CCTV footage is being reviewed, but Dr Bloomfield says the man had "minimal interaction" with staff.

On Wednesday, the man worked on the ship docked at the New Plymouth port. Crew who worked on the same vessel - which is now en-route to Napier - are being treated as close contacts, however no one is symptomatic at this time. Crew on-board will be isolated and tested on arrival.

"He is not a port worker per se," Dr Bloomfield said. He noted the nature of the man's work means he typically only has direct interaction with security upon entry and was on-board the vessel for the majority of the time, only moving through the port to access the ship. PPE such as masks and gloves are used routinely by the crew.

The man then returned to Auckland and was not at work on Thursday. He was not at the Ports of Auckland during his infectious period.

As aforementioned, the man left work immediately on Friday after developing symptoms, and got tested on the way home. The testing centre followed all necessary protocols and no additional close contacts have been identified there. 

Genome sequencing will be performed, Dr Bloomfield said. Health officials immediately worked to identify whether the man had a link to Auckland's most recent cluster, which emerged in August. The genome sequencing will be helpful in finding where the man's infection originated.

"The public should be reassured that the measures around our ports are very strict - the use of PPE, the regular testing - this person had previously returned four negative tests," Dr Bloomfield said. "We are constantly learning and strengthening our border measures."

Two new imported cases, one historical

As of Sunday, there are also two new imported cases of the virus, bringing New Zealand's confirmed case total to 1530. There are currently 42 active cases.

One of the new imported cases arrived on October 5 from England via Dubai, and tested positive at around day 12 of their stay in managed isolation.

The second person arrived on October 13 from Dubai and tested positive at around day three. Both cases have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

One new historical case reported on Friday is also now officially included in New Zealand's case numbers, Dr Bloomfield said.

One imported case is currently under investigation to identify whether it should be classified as a historic case.

"This is another reminder that COVID is not going away anytime soon," Dr Bloomfield said. "However effective our response may have been to date, the only thing that matters is how our response is moving forward."

ARPHS letter

Earlier on Sunday, NZME revealed it had obtained a letter by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS), advising that a case of a "notifiable and infectious" disease had been detected. The letter, written on Saturday, did not specify if the disease was COVID-19.

On Sunday, the ARPHS confirmed in a letter to Ports of Auckland staff members and contractors that an employee from another company had returned a positive result for COVID-19.

"At this stage, there are only a small number of close contacts of this person who are at greater risk, and they are in this workplace off-site, and in his household. They are being contacted directly by the public health team and will be tested and given advice," says the letter.

"This letter is to reassure you that we consider the risk to workers at the Port to be low, although our investigations are continuing. Anyone who may have been exposed to the virus and is considered a close contact will be informed directly by ARPHS and the Ports of Auckland."