COVID-19: Household contact of MIQ worker returns weak positive, 'low risk' to community

A family member of a managed isolation worker who contracted COVID-19 has returned a weak positive result, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Tuesday.

On Monday night, the Ministry of Health confirmed the worker, a cleaner at Auckland's Grand Millennium Hotel, had returned a positive result due to routine testing.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Hipkins and Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed that three household contacts of the cleaner have tested negative. The fourth - the family member who returned a weak positive result - has been classified as under investigation. They will be re-tested today.

"Further work is being undertaken to get to the bottom of that today," Hipkins said.

"While this case is connected to the border, we do see it as low-risk to the community. Contact tracing [and] further genome sequencing is underway."

Both the cleaner, referred to as Case A, and their family member are asymptomatic, Dr Bloomfield added. All members of the household are currently isolating at home. 

One location of interest has been identified. On Saturday, March 20, Case A visited Countdown supermarket in Mt Roskill between 3pm and 3:15pm. Anyone who was in-store during that period is asked to monitor their health until April 3. If symptoms develop, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453, get tested, and remain at home until a negative result is returned. 

From the contact tracing undertaken so far, health officials believe Case A, who frequently uses their NZ COVID Tracer app, had "very limited exposure" to the community during their infectious period, which is yet to be determined. The employee also works in an environment which requires "diligent" use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and regular cleaning, Hipkins added.

As a frontline worker, the staffer undertakes fortnightly swabs and tested positive due to routine surveillance testing, he continued. Their last swab was taken on March 4.

"We continue to move quickly to mitigate any potential risk to the public, regardless of how low we consider that risk to be."

Case A was at work on Monday, but wore a mask for the duration of their shift. Two colleagues who worked closely with the employee are now self-isolating.

Genome sequencing for Case A and their household contact is expected later on Tuesday. Health officials will use the results to determine if there is a link between the employee and any recent cases at the Grand Millennium. Since March 1, eight cases have been detected at the managed isolation facility.

The household contacts of Case A have not yet been immunised against the virus, however the worker has received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second of which was administered on March 16.

Three new imported cases have also been picked up in managed isolation facilities, Dr Bloomfield said. One case has recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 68, and another case has been classified as a historical infection.

To date, New Zealand has recorded 2112 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since January 1, 41 of 300 cases have been classified as historical infections - meaning they no longer pose a risk of spreading the virus.

On Monday, 2754 tests were processed, a lower volume than usual consistent with Sunday data. The seven-day rolling average is 4438 tests.