No new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the community in the past 24 hours, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.
Speaking alongside COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Tuesday, Dr Bloomfield provided the latest update on Auckland's community cases. On Sunday, it was announced that three family members - a mother, daughter and father from South Auckland - had tested positive for the virus. The Auckland region was subsequently plunged into alert level 3 of the COVID-19 response for a provisional three-day period.
As of Tuesday, there are also no new imported cases to report in New Zealand's managed isolation facilities.
Minister Hipkins said it is still "too soon to speculate" if Auckland will shift out of alert level 3 on Wednesday, but acknowledged that "a day we get zero test results is always a good day".
The three positive community cases remain in quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel and their household contact continues to isolate at home under supervision.
The investigation into how the cases contracted COVID-19 continues, Dr Bloomfield said, and health officials are pursuing a number of scenarios. The source of infection remains unknown.
New Zealand's COVID-19 death toll has also increased, with the death of a patient at North Shore Hospital on February 13 added to the country's official figures on Tuesday. The death toll now stands at 26.
On Monday, 5818 tests were processed and more than 15,000 swabs were taken nationally - a "great response" and an "encouraging" result, Dr Bloomfield said.
As of 11:15am on Tuesday, 1454 swabs had been taken across Auckland. On Monday, 450 swabs were taken in Taranaki, 750 were taken in Waikato, and 260 were taken in Northland.
Close contacts and contact tracing
Contact tracing enquiries have now identified 109 close contacts outside the household of the three Auckland cases, Dr Bloomfield confirmed, increasing from 42 on Tuesday morning.
"This increase in number is predominantly because of a very precautionary approach to people classified as close contacts at a new location of interest, which was a medical centre waiting room - where the father wasn't in the red lane for COVID testing. This was well before he developed any symptoms or tested positive," he said.
Fourteen of 36 contacts identified at Papatoetoe High School, the school attended by the daughter, have tested negative so far. Family member close contacts, the workmates of the father and the people that travelled in the car to Taranaki have also tested negative.
More than 2000 others have now been identified as 'casual plus' contacts, including people at the workplaces of the cases, others from Papatoetoe High School, and those present at locations of interest.
Following the confirmation of the three new community cases on Sunday, the Auckland region was plunged into alert level 3 restrictions as a precautionary approach, consistent with the Government's 'go hard and go early' strategy.
Contacts of the three cases continue to undergo testing in a widespread campaign targeting both close and casual contacts, as well as the broader community. Further results of this testing will be revealed on Tuesday, including that of students and teachers at Papatoetoe High School - the school attended by the daughter.
Forty-two close contacts had been identified prior to Tuesday's 1pm update and as of that morning, 12 had tested negative for the virus.
It was initially reported that the mother, Case A - an employee of LSG Sky Chefs at Auckland Airport - was the first to contract COVID-19. But on Tuesday Dr Bloomfield revealed the daughter, a Papatoetoe High School student, was the first to report the onset of symptoms - and officials are now considering whether she may have been the first to become infected.
How the first case contracted the virus is currently unknown.
Widespread testing has since taken place in an attempt to detect any transmission among the family's close and casual contacts. A list of 'locations of interest' - establishments or areas visited by the cases while they were potentially infectious - is available here.
The three family members are carrying the B.1.1.7 strain, also known as the UK variant - a mutation of the virus first detected in the UK, which is understood to be more infectious than the original strain.
Genome sequencing could not find a direct match between the family and other sequenced cases, a strong indication the three are not linked to New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine system.
Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday morning, Dr Bloomfield said the Institute of Environmental Science and Research is now searching for a potential match in the global database, which may be able to link the infections to a transit passenger or aircrew member who stopped in New Zealand.