Health authorities are investigating a case of COVID-19 found in Northland's community in a person who has left a MIQ facility.
This person left their facility on January 13 after testing negative.
It has been just over two months since New Zealand's last case of community transmission.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins will give an update at 4pm where it is expected they'll provide more information on this latest case in the community.
What you need to know
- The person left managed isolation on January 13
- She then travelled around southern Northland and developed symptoms on January 15
- One location this woman visited when she may have been infectious is the Bendon outlet store in Whangarei
- Hipkins says there is not yet evidence of community transmission in Northland, and reiterated the difference between this and a case of COVID-19 in the community
- In its regular 1pm case update, the Ministry of Health confirmed eight cases of COVID-19, but all of these were detected in managed isolation.
These live updates have finished.
9:00pm - The Ministry of Health has released the full list of locations visited by the woman.
The nearly-30 locations include Noel Leeming, Bendon and The Warehouse in Whangarei, as well as other locations in Ruakaka, Parua Bay, Mangawhai Heads and Helensville.
8:20pm - While the woman at the centre of this case "did the right thing" and scanned into locations, Dr Andrew Chen, a research fellow at Koi Tū - Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, says all Kiwis need to use the app in order for it to be of benefit.
"You can't be alerted via digital means if you aren't participating, and while manual contact tracing is still good and will probably get to you, it may be slower," he says.
"Speed is of the essence in combatting this disease. All the modelling suggests that time-to-isolation is the strongest factor in keeping an outbreak under control."
But he adds the COVID Tracer App is just one of New Zealand's responses to the virus.
"If you are showing symptoms, get a test and don't go to work. If you have no symptoms, wash your hands, wear a mask when you can, and keep records of where you have been and who you have been near, preferably with NZ COVID Tracer and Bluetooth tracing."
8pm - Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist, says this case "should serve as a slap in the face with a wet fish" for New Zealanders.
"Our rates for scanning of the COVID app have plummeted over recent weeks as we bask in the complacency that we're 'all good here'," he says.
"This positive test should serve to shake us out of our holiday smugness and remind us that COVID is still rampant and even more virulent than before."
"We can only hope that the fast and thoughtful actions of the woman who tested positive will protect us all. It only takes one instance for this virus to get out into our community but it can also be the thoughtful actions of one person that saves us from a far greater fate."
7:40pm - Professor Shaun Hendy of the University of Auckland says while this new case is "concerning", it isn't the same situation Auckland faced in August when the initial cases couldn't be linked to the border.
"With what we know at the moment - that the person has had only four close contacts - it is unlikely that we will need another lockdown," he says.
"But we all need to do our bit to avoid this: keep scanning, and get a test but then stay home if you have any of the symptoms or think you might you may have had contact with this case."
Going forward, he says it will be important to find out whether the person was infected in MIQ, since that may mean there are other returnees who could've been exposed. He also says it's possible the woman had a very long incubation period, which while rare isn't unheard of.
"The genomics will also be very helpful, potentially linking the case to other returnees within MIQ or to cases overseas," he says.
"It will also tell us whether we are looking at one of the new strains. These are becoming more prevalent overseas so it is certainly a possibility."
7:20pm - Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, of the University of Auckland's School of Biological Sciences, says while many people will be alarmed by this case, it's important to remember New Zealand has seen cases like this before and they have been stopped in their tracks without the need to shift alert levels.
" The likely explanation is that they were infected in Europe or while they were in transit to New Zealand. They may also have been infected during their stay in MIQ. Hopefully, the genome sequencing will tell us more," she says.
"If the person was infected in MIQ, then understanding how that happened will help to determine if any procedures need to be improved."
She says this case is a reminder to use the COVID Tracer App in case people need to give details of their movements to officials.
"Remember: Stop, Look, Scan, Smile. When you enter a building, stop and take a moment to look for a QR code. Open the app and scan. Then think of all the contact tracers cheering you on for doing your bit," she says.
"I'd like to see all businesses helping to make QR code scanning easier by reminding people to scan as they pay for good and services, and putting the QR codes up in lots of different places around their premises, rather than hidden by the entrance. This is a habit we will need for the next year, so let's develop it now rather than just scanning when we hear of a case outside of MIQ."
6:25pm - The first location of interest this woman visited has been released.
She visited the Bendon outlet store in the Okara Shopping Centre in Whangarei on January 15 from 9:33am to 10am.
People who visited this store at this time are advised to stay home, call Healthline, and get tested.
6:20pm - Professor Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury says New Zealand is "well-prepared" for border incursions like this.
"The case has a clear link to the border and has not had a huge number of close contacts in the community. This means there is a relatively low risk that a large number of people have been infected," he says.
"Once we have the results from testing close and casual contacts in the next few days, we will have a clearer picture of whether any change in alert level is needed."
Dr Bloomfield said they are assuming the case is one of the new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19.
"This may be confirmed by the results of genome sequencing in next day or so," Plank says.
"Given that these variants are more transmissible, it makes sense to cast a wide net with contact tracing and testing as many people who may have crossed paths with the case as possible."
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm. Watch online here or tune in on Three to get the latest details on this case.
5:45pm - Psychologist Dr Sarb Johal says investigations of this case are likely to cause concern for many New Zealanders, but that it's worth remembering people tend to have a blind spot for dangers that have a long lead-in time.
He says COVID-19 being present in the community for days before people start testing positive is important to note, and it means it is "absolutely critical" the COVID Tracer App is used to scan into locations.
"The argument that 'we don't need to use the app because we don't have COVID-19 here' is a false one, because the virus may well be present - it just hasn't been detected yet," he says.
"By using the app, you are making a valuable personal and community contribution to being able to tackle any outbreak swiftly, should one occur. Make sure QR codes are available, visible (in colour, as it is a memorable reminder of the COVID-19 campaign), easy to access and ideally displayed in multiple places in premises.
"Use the QR codes, no matter where you are in New Zealand - our response may depend on it."
5:30pm - A public health expert is calling on the Government to respond "urgently" to what could be "extremely high risk of an outbreak and uncontrolled spread".
Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, a senior research fellow at the University of Otago, Wellington Department of Public Health, says the "only proportionate response to that level of risk is to throw everything we have at keeping New Zealanders safe".
"If it looks to many people like an overreaction, then it's probably about right. It would be a terrible tragedy to have more outbreaks and deaths just weeks before the vaccines get to New Zealand," she says.
"The new variants are much more transmissible and appear to cause more severe disease as well. In response, the Government must turn down the tap to reduce the number of infectious cases on long haul flights and in MIQ facilities."
Dr Kvalsvig says the Government has a duty of care to protect travellers, MIQ workers and guests, and the general population.
"A five-day pre-flight hotel quarantine with at least two tests would greatly reduce the risk. Reducing the number of MIQ spaces unfortunately looks increasingly necessary until the protective effect of vaccines has properly kicked in."
5:15pm - ACT leader David Seymour says the delay on publishing the locations the woman visited is "reckless" and "risks making a dangerous situation much worse".
"How can people self-isolate and get tested in a timely manner if the Government won't tell them they've been somewhere they may have contracted the virus?," he says.
"People want to take personal responsibility at times like this but the Government needs to be transparent and treat them like adults."
He says hopefully the woman's use of the COVID Tracer App will give tracers a helping hand, but the potential for her to spread the virus is of "huge concern". It's worth noting again that the woman has four close contacts, all of which have been tested and are in isolation.
"She deserves real kudos, but appallingly low use of the app by most others means tracing is going to be extremely difficult," he says.
"We know only about 5 percent of the population is regularly scanning using the official NZ COVID Tracer app, which is why on January 12 ACT said scanning into any premises with a QR code should be made compulsory for those who haven't switched on the app's Bluetooth capability.
"Just think how much easier the very onerous task of trying to track and trace across a number of days and dozens of locations would be if a majority of Kiwis used the app."
4:55pm - Epidemiologist Michael Baker says it's likely she became infected in the MIQ facility and had a long incubation period, but believes there should be a thorough investigation.
"We really have to wait to see what that shows, but the more important issue is that this is a wake up call for New Zealand," he says.
"What we have been doing up to now may not be enough. These are hotels - they're not purpose-built quarantine facilities."
He says the systematic change here needs to be the number of infectious people who are arriving in New Zealand. He believes travel could be suspended for a few months from countries that have highly-infectious strains of the virus.
He also believes airport quarantine and a rapid test could be other options for people arriving into New Zealand.
4:45pm - Here's a recap of details from the press conference, which has just finished:
- The case is a 56-year-old woman who was staying at Auckland's Pullman Hotel MIQ facility
- She tested negative twice during her stay and left on January 13
- She travelled around Northland, including Helensville, Mangawhai, and Dargaville
- The woman developed very mild symptoms on January 15, but didn't associate them with COVID-19
- She has four close contacts, including her household contact and two others she had a close encounter with in a retail setting.
4:35pm - It is "so premature" to speculate there would be any alert level change, Hipkins says, after he was asked about people heading to supermarkets to stock up on supplies.
4:30pm - Hipkins says they are "doing their best" in allowing Kiwis overseas to return home.
On vaccines, he says the first Pfizer shipment of around 200,000 doses is due to arrive by the end of August.
"We know that vaccine supply is going to be our biggest constraint," he says.
4:25pm - Dr Bloomfield says the woman had four close contacts, all of who have been tested and are isolating. She also visited retail outlets, cafes, and went to Airbnbs.
He reiterated again that the locations she visited will be updated online on a drip-feed basis once the owners of those outlets are notified.
COVID Tracer App users who scanned in will receive a notification, and Dr Bloomfield says the Ministry of Health will push out those locations in a number of ways.
The woman didn't go to any mass-events, like concerts.
4:20pm - Hipkins says rather than having a blanket target on the number of tests that should be conducted per day, he believes it's about testing the right people.
He urges anyone who is symptomatic to contact Healthline and orgainse to get tested.
On vaccines, he says it's most likely approval of those will come first before they arrive in the country. He says border workers and their contacts will be one of the first to receive the vaccine.
4:17pm - "We're doing all the things we need to do to prevent onward transmission," Dr Bloomfield says. It's worth noting again that health officials are acting as if this is a positive case.
He says they've been working with the public health unit in Northland and are increasing testing in the region.
4:15pm - Hipkins says people who have left the Pullman Hotel since January 1 are asked to get a test.
The woman lives just south of Whangarei - which is where she currently is.
Dr Bloomfield says the woman may be able to self-isolate at home, but that is yet to be determined.
He adds they are contacting the owners of the around 30 locations the woman visited before publishing them online.
The woman became more unwell as time went on, but she doesn't yet need hospital-level care.
4:12pm - Dr Bloomfield says the woman travelled in southern Northland after leaving MIQ. There are roughly 30 locations the woman visited, and she was "extremely assiduous" in using the app. She also had the Bluetooth function turned on.
He adds the locations and potential exposure dates will be published soon. People who were at those locations will be asked to phone Healthline to organise to get a test.
But he urges if anyone is symptomatic, either in Northland or elsewhere in New Zealand, they should get tested.
"This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues," he says.
"Wash your hands and scan in religiously."
4:10pm - Dr Bloomfield says some of the woman's family members in Europe tested positive for the virus while she was visiting them.
After leaving MIQ, the woman has lived with one other person. They are in isolation.
He says people who leave MIQ are called a few days later to see how they're feeling. He says the woman felt "progressively worse" after she left, and she was tested at a community facility. She was isolating while waiting on that result, which came through on Saturday night.
Dr Bloomfield says they're working on the assumption that this is a positive case and that the woman has the more transmissible strain of either the UK or South Africa variant.
4:05pm - Hipkins is reminding Kiwis to use the COVID Tracer App - which includes turning on Bluetooth and scanning in - and to isolate while they're waiting on a test result.
The woman at the centre of this case used the app to scan in at every location she visited, Hipkins says.
4pm - The case is a 56-year-old woman who was at the Pullman Hotel MIQ facility in Auckland. She had recent returned from Europe.
She tested negative twice during her stay
Hipkins says her strain of the virus isn't yet known, and it is too early to speculate.
3:55pm - A press conference is scheduled to begin at 4pm, which will be fronted by Dr Bloomfield and Hipkins.
There are a number of ways you can watch that live:
- in the embedded YouTube link above
- in the video player at the top of the page
- live on Newshub's website here
- or tune in on Three.
3:50pm - ACT leader David Seymour says if this case turns out to be community transmission, the Government's objective "must be avoiding another lockdown".
He believes the best news is this case is a "false alarm", but if not, then a number of things should happen to protect the community.
"First, mass testing will need to be rolled out. How soon can this be in place? Is the resource standing by to rapidly put in place the infrastructure for mass testing in the region?," he says.
"We know very few people in Northland have been getting tested, with Ministry of Health statistics showing only 282 tests were carried out over the past week [January 18 to 24], down from 328 the week before."
Seymour adds that much will rest on where the source of this outbreak occurred in MIQ, including whether this person travelled to Northland from Auckland or further afield.
"Above all, the Government must be completely transparent about all aspects of this situation," he says.
"We hope the Government succeeds in containing any cases as soon as possible."
3:40pm - Since reports of the case emerged earlier on Sunday, Hipkins has clarified there is not yet any evidence of community transmission in Northland - reiterating the difference between this and a case in the community.
"It's still most likely this is a border case," he said, as reported by the Herald.
3:30pm - Welcome to Newshub's live updates on the case of COVID-19 found in Northland's community.
We are awaiting an update from Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins, which is due to happen at 4pm, where they are expected to give more information on this case. When that begins, you'll be able to watch it above, in either the embedded YouTube link or the video player at the top of the page, or live on Three.
What is currently known is health officials are "investigating a positive test result in a person who has departed from a MIQ facility". The NZ Herald also reports the person left their facility about five days ago.