COVID-19: 'No indication' Auckland needs to go back into lockdown despite new community cases - Ashley Bloomfield

There are no plans to plunge Auckland back into lockdown following the emergence of three new cases of COVID-19 in the community, says Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The public health official says he is not "particularly concerned" about the latest cases, one of which is a student at Papatoetoe High School.

The cluster began on February 14, when it was announced that three people - a Papatoetoe High School student and their parents - had tested positive for the virus. Intensive contact tracing and a widespread testing campaign detected five additional cases in the following week - Cases D, E, F, G and H - which included another student and four of their household contacts.

On Tuesday, it was announced that an additional case - Case I - had also tested positive. Case I, another student, is a casual-plus contact of Case A. It was later confirmed on Tuesday evening that two of Case I's siblings, a teenager and an infant - Case J and Case K respectively - had contracted the virus.

However, it was revealed early on Wednesday morning that genomic sequencing had found a direct link between the latest cases and Case A, indicating Case I had contracted COVID-19 from the original student. The three new cases are also carrying the B.1.1.7 strain, also known as the UK variant - a more infectious mutation of the original coronavirus.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Dr Bloomfield said he and two other health officials had deliberated last night and decided an alert level change in Auckland was not required. 

"Our sense was there is no indication to go up alert levels at this point," he said.

He reiterated that a "very direct link" has been identified between the latest cases and the original student, indicating the new infections are not a "separate incursion".

No further positive test results have been returned on Wednesday morning.

Dr Bloomfield said the latest development is indicative of the tricky nature of the virus, as Case I - a casual-plus contact - had only "transient" exposure to Case A, and the two didn't know one another well.

Students and staff are now required to get re-tested, Dr Bloomfield said, and health officials will follow up with those who fail to return a second result. 

Although Case I did not attend school last week, Dr Bloomfield acknowledged that it "doesn't seem [the family] were isolating as we had asked them to do". Case I did not get tested until Monday, despite repeated requests for all students and staff to seek a test last week. 

The teenage sibling of Case I, Case J, worked at Kmart in Botany - a location of interest - on both Friday and Saturday last week. Anyone who was in the store between 3:30pm and 10:30pm on these days is considered a casual-plus contact. 

People who visited Dark Vapes East Tamaki, another location of interest, on Friday and Saturday between 2:20pm and 4pm and between 7pm and 8:30pm respectively are also deemed a casual-plus contact.

As a precautionary measure, all casual-plus contacts are asked to isolate at home for 14 days following the date of exposure and get tested on both day five and day 12. 

Dr Bloomfield noted that both Case A and Case I presented "slightly unusual" symptoms. Instead of the typical respiratory symptoms associated with the virus, both reported lethargy and muscle ache, which might be due to the B.1.1.7 variant. 

Health officials will provide further formal advice later in the day.

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said there had been "nothing but support" for the school community, adding he was not aware of any negativity towards the families.

Couillault said there were "all manner of reasons" why people do not comply with official advice in regards to the 11 students who have yet to return a result for the virus.

He said some have made a "conscious choice" to isolate for 14 days instead of undertaking a test, while others were "hard to reach".