Key COVID-19 test results came back today after two people in Auckland tested positive.
On Wednesday, two family members tested positive after staying at the same facility as a 56-year-old Northland woman who tested positive after completing her 14 days at Auckland's Pullman Hotel MIQ facility.
While all of the Northland woman's close contacts tested negative, close contacts from the two new Auckland cases are still being investigated.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the test results would give the ministry "a very good picture" of the situation.
What you need to know:
- Six new cases have been detected in MIQ, but there are no new community cases.
- A border worker has been sacked after a 20-minute encounter in a guest's room at an Auckland MIQ hotel on January 7.
- The Northland community case has recovered.
- No changes will be made to alert levels as there is no evidence of community transmission. This means Kiwis' long weekend plans can go ahead unaffected.
- Two people who completed their MIQ in the Pullman Hotel - the same facility as the Northland case - and at the same time as that case are now being treated as confirmed COVID-19 infections. They are a father and daughter.
- Genome sequencing shows the pair have the South African variant and their infections are linked to the Northland woman. Serology results should be returned on Friday.
- A number of locations of interest have been identified in north Auckland and people who visited them at roughly the same time as the infected individuals are being asked to isolate and get a test. More locations were added on Thursday evening.
- A third person in the family's bubble has tested negative. The two infected individuals are being move to an Auckland quarantine facility
- Pullman Hotel guests are being asked to remain in their rooms until at least 1pm on Thursday. The MIQ facility is also now closed to new arrivals.
These live updates have now finished.
2:30pm - If you watched the 1pm COVID-19 press conference, you'd have heard about 20-minute "encounter" in a MIQ guest's bedroom that saw a border worker fired earlier this month.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that the incident occurred in early January at the Grand Millennium Hotel in the CBD.
The guest and staff member had been exchanging notes, including one written on the back of a face mask, before he delivered a bottle of wine to the guest's hotel room.
Read Hannah Kronast's report about it here.
2:25pm - The Northern Region Health Coordination Centre has hailed the estimated 5000 tests undertaken in metropolitan Auckland over the last two days as a "strong community response".
"What we are seeing at North Shore testing centres gives us confidence that people who need a COVID-19 test are getting one," said Waitematā DHB CEO Dr Dale Bramley.
"I want to acknowledge and thank all those who are working long hours to support community testing right across the health sector.
"I also want to thank the public for their good humour while queuing for a test. I visited the three North Shore community testing centres yesterday and was impressed by the positivity and patience of those waiting."
2:15pm - While Hipkins is concerned by the actions of a border worker who had a 20-minute encounter in an MIQ guest's room, he's unsure whether they'll face charges.
Hipkins said the worker had already faced the consequences of their actions by losing their job, and hadn't received any advice on legal action.
Hipkins labelled the person's behaviour "unacceptable".
2:10pm - Faafoi says the businesses must comply with New Zealand's strict border rules, which have been in place for many months to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"The Government absolutely supports Kiwi businesses' enterprise and resilience, and we have been taking measures and implementing initiatives, including changes to various visa settings, to help that, but everyone has had to accept that COVID brings complications and processes that didn’t exist before the pandemic," he said.
"It's critical that we all follow those processes, give adequate time to ensure the requirements of those processes are met, and all play our part to make sure New Zealand avoids the worst effects of this pandemic."
2pm - A charter cruise vessel has been denied entry to New Zealand as not all those on board had the necessary visas for entry.
The ship, Le Laperouse, set sail for New Zealand last month. It was given permission by the Director-General of Health to travel to New Zealand on the condition that it obtained the visas from Immigration NZ.
This message was made clear to the ship's agents at least twice, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said.
1:50pm - Asked about Australia's decision to extend the suspension of flights from New Zealand to Australia, Hipkins said our health authorities have nothing to do with it.
"That's a matter for the Aussies," he said.
The extension means the next flight to Australia from New Zealand will be at 2pm on Sunday, January 31 at the earliest.
1:40pm - No more returnees will be placed at the Pullman Hotel until health authorities find out what the weaknesses are, Hipkins says.
He admits they haven't been able to work out what's been happening there and why there have been multiple cases.
However he said significant improvements have been made to air conditioning and ventilation units.
1:37pm - Hipkins says the vast majority of MIQ and border workers are "incredibly professional".
"I want to extend a very warm thank you to everyone who works at our border," he said.
"They are very diligent... one person has let the team down here."
1:30pm - Hipkins has revealed a managed isolation worker has been fired after an "encounter" with a guest in their bedroom.
He wouldn't confirm whether the encounter was sexual but said the incident was "absolutely unacceptable".
It's understood the worker delivered a bottle of wine to the guest's room and stayed for some time.
"I don't know the nature of the encounter but it was a 20-minute encounter. It's unacceptable and there are consequences. They have already lost their job," Hipkins said.
1:28pm - Hipkins says as the new variants run rampant around the world there will be more pressure at New Zealand's border.
1:25pm - The two cases who tested positive in the Pullman Hotel are genomically linked. Both guests were on the second floor of the hotel, Dr Bloomfield said.
The Ministry of Health and MBIE have made several recommendations during their investigation into how transmission occured.
The recommendations are:
- Reinforcing measure already in place
- No new arrivals
- No movement outside of rooms after day 12 test
- additional interim measures:
- People who are due to depart can do so but must isolate at home and get tested on day 5
- increased testing of staff at the Pullman Hotel
1:18pm - There are six new cases in managed isolation today.
1:17pm - Dr Bloomfield said there are currently no restrictions on travel for the weekend. But he said Kiwis need to do their part and scan and wash hands.
1:13pm - Dr Bloomfield said all 10 of the Auckland cases' close contacts have tested negative.
In total 249 people scanned into locations of interest on the COVID-19 Tracer app. They have all received notifications.
Out of the 353 guests at the Pullman Hotel, 314 have tested negative.
1:10pm - There are two additional cases at the Pullman Hotel.
As a result, from tomorrow everyone at the facility will need to stay in their room after day 12 testing, Hipkins said.
1:10pm - There have been over 38,000 tests over the last seven days, Hipkins said.
He said the tests have provided invaluable information and has provided reassurance that people can continue with their long weekend plans.
12:50pm - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield are set to give a COVID-19 case update at 1pm.
Watch the video above.
12:30pm - Schools are preparing for another lockdown as the Auckland cases cause concern.
Principals told RNZ the cases have served as a reminder about how important it is to be prepared for a sudden lockdown.
Read more here.
11:57am - Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield are expected to reveal crucial test results from the close contacts of the Auckland cases at 1pm.
It comes as Aucklanders head for holiday hotspots ahead of the anniversary weekend. There are currently no COVID restrictions on travel.
11:30am - The Australian Government is spending A$23.9 million on a COVID-19 vaccination information campaign aimed to reassure the public about vaccine safety and effectiveness. It will also provide information about the vaccine rollout.
Read more about the campaign, and whether it will work, here.
10:51am - Hone Harawira says there will be discussions on Friday about how to protect the Far North community after the Tai Tokerau border control checkpoint was shut down.
The checkpoint wasn't stopping motorists getting into the region, instead they were issuing drivers with important COVID-19 information, including where to find local testing centres.
However, just hours after setting up, the police shut the operation down due to "safety concerns".
On Friday, Harawira told the NZ Herald the decision would "come back to haunt them".
He said the group will not stop trying to find ways to protect the community and they would be meeting later in the day to discuss how they can continue to protect the community.
Read more here.
10:33am - Epidemiologist Michael Baker is calling on the Government to introduce a one-week-long home quarantine for returnees after they've left managed isolation.
Baker told Morning Report the extra week would reduce the risk of community spread.
"Personally, I think we should be thinking about this whole four-week period that [returnees] have, the week before they get on the flight overseas, their two weeks in MIQ in New Zealand, and their week after they leave these facilities.
"Obviously we need to focus more on that whole journey, but I think the week after they leave MIQ... it's a really good idea to think about requiring a week of home quarantine.
"If we look at what is done internationally, say Taiwan for example, has used that approach quite a lot and they really do enforce that period, people are required to stay at home, it's followed up and there are huge fines if you don't adhere to that requirement."
Read more here.
10:15am - The Ministry of Health has confirmed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will be holding a press conference at 1pm. The conference will be livestreamed on Newshub.co.nz.
10:00am - Queues are forming at the North Shore Stadium testing centre in Auckland.
The Ministry of Health is urging anyone who visited the locations of interest at the same time as the COVID cases, or anyone in Auckland with symptoms, to call Healthline, self isolate and get tested.
List of locations visited by the two new cases:
- BBQ King Albany - January 15 - 5pm to 6pm
- BBQ King Albany - January 16 - 5pm to 6pm
- BBQ King Albany - January 17 - 11am to 2pm
- PaknSave Silverdale - January 17 - 2pm to 2:30pm
- BBQ King Albany - January 17 - 5pm to 9pm
- PaknSave Silverdale - January 18 - 12 noon to 12:30pm
- BBQ King Albany - January 18 - 12:30pm to 3pm
- Caltex Orewa - January 18 - 1pm to 1:30pm
- BBQ King Albany - January 18 - 5pm to 9pm
- PaknSave Silverdale - January 21 - 1:37pm to 1:53pm
- ASB Wairau Valley - January 21 - 2:06pm to 2:09pm
- Hickeys Pharmacy - January 23 - 12:30pm to 1:30 pm
- New World Orewa - January 23 - 12:30pm to 1:30pm
- Farmers Albany Albany - January 24 - 12 noon to 1pm
- Tai Ping Supermarket Albany - January 24 - 12 noon to 1pm
- New World Orewa - January 25 - 1pm to 2pm
- Caltex Orewa - January 25 - 2:15pm to 2:30pm
- PaknSave Silverdale - January 25 - 2:35pm to 3:02pm
- DaHua Supermarket Northcote - January 26 - 12:57pm to 1:45pm
- Tai Ping Supermarket Northcote - January 26 - 12:30pm to 1pm
9:48am - Placing returnees into managed isolation facilities in the middle of Auckland is "nuts", according to a medical expert.
University of Auckland Professor of Medicines Des Gorman told The AM Show on Friday that the hotels weren't designed for what they are now being used for.
"They were designed to bring you and I together for social encounters, not to keep us separated and certainly not to stop us spreading around an infectious virus," he said. "We are using facilities which are simply unsuitable for purpose"
Gorman said New Zealand has done well in its fight against COVID-19, putting its success down to "how well we behaved during the first lockdown, the fact we are remote islands at the bottom of south Pacific and spade loads of dumb good luck".
Read more here.
9:15am - New Zealand health officials aren't considering using anal swabs to test for COVID-19 after China introduced them last week.
"The Ministry of Health is not currently considering the use of anal swabs to test for COVID-19. We continue to monitor global developments in testing techniques and innovations," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Newshub.
The new method was rolled out in China for residents of neighbourhoods with confirmed cases and those in quarantine facilities, according to state media
The test only takes around 10 seconds and involves a saline-soaked cotton swab being inserted 3-5cm into the rectum and rotated several times.
The swab is then removed and securely placed in a test container.
Local doctors say the test is more accurate than the throat swabs because traces of the virus remain in the anus longer than the respiratory tract.
Read more here.
8:47am - Twelve members of The Wiggles have been given managed isolation vouchers for March 2021.
A Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesperson told Newshub the spaces will be taken from rooms already set aside so nobody misses out.
"The vouchers will be allocated out of rooms set aside for contingencies," the spokesperson said.
"This is the most practical solution to ensure returning New Zealanders and critical workers don't miss out on spaces in managed isolation and ensure that no eligible travellers under the emergency allocation process miss out, whilst finding a pragmatic solution to this situation.
"This is a very unusual situation. It is important to highlight that just because someone gets a visa to travel to New Zealand this does not mean we automatically give them a voucher in managed isolation. They have to book vouchers on the Managed Isolation Allocation System like everyone else."
8:30am - Political pressure is building on The Government to complete an urgent audit of managed isolation facilities.
No new arrivals will be housed at the Pullman Hotel while an investigation is underway.
But National Party leader Judith Collins says a full review into the entire MIQ system is urgently needed.
Read the full story here.
7:48am - A person has tested positive for COVID-19 on a ship berthed at the Port of Tauranga.
The weak positive result was picked up in routine crew testing and was yesterday confirmed as historical.
A spokesperson says there is no risk to the community and the crew have not left the vessel since it arrived.
The ship is due to leave New Zealand on Sunday.
7:30am - The Cook Islands is resuming flights with New Zealand but passengers must quarantine for up to 14 days on arrival.
Travellers will also be required to get a COVID-19 test when they arrive and possibly again in six days.
Prime Minister Mark Brown said he has confidence in the New Zealand systems, testing and contact tracing.
Brown said people in quarantine may be released sooner if there is no evidence of community transmission after all the test results come back.
Read more here.