Live updates: MIQ hotel worker tests positive for COVID-19, 23 new cases at border

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield provided a COVID-19 update from the Ministry of Health's Wellington headquarters on Thursday afternoon.

He revealed a worker at a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility had tested positive for the virus, and that 23 other cases had been picked up at the border.

Later, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on new arrivals from India from April 11-28.

Here's what we know:

  • Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted an impromptu press conference on Thursday afternoon.
  • He revealed an MIQ hotel worker - a security guard at the Grand Millennium - had tested positive for COVID-19. The worker had not yet been vaccinated.
  • Health officials are investigating the new case and an audit is being carried out at the facility.
  • 23 other cases were reported on Wednesday, all at the border. Four of these are historical.
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a further COVID-19 update, announcing flights from India to New Zealand will be suspended from April 11-28.
  • The Government is investigating how it'll manage the risk posed by arrivals from other high-risk countries while the suspension is in place.

These live updates have now ended.

5:15pm - National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop has told Magic Talk host Ryan Bridge he won't get the coronavirus vaccine until all New Zealand's border workers have been offered it.

It comes after Dr Bloomfield revealed that while the new MIQ worker case had been offered a vaccine, he was yet to get the jab.

4:52pm - Hendy acknowledges that it's the first time the Government has stopped its own citizens returning to New Zealand, but says the move to ban flights from India will better protect border workers.

"India's been particularly problematic in that we're seeing a large number of people testing positive at the day 0 or day 1 test. That's telling us that they're being infected in transit," he said.

As for whether we'll do the same for those returning from other high-risk nations?

"If we start to see the same pattern in people arriving from other countries, we should look into that as well."

4:47pm - On Ardern's announcement flights from India would be suspended, Hendy says it could well be extended for longer.

"We're just going to have to wait and see as to how case numbers proceed in India," he said.

"India doesn't have a great surveillance system, unlike Australia who we're opening up a bubble with in a short period of time...

"The fact we're seeing these cases arrive in large numbers at the border, is obviously telling us about the progress of the epidemic in India. So this may need to continue for longer."

4:43pm - Hendy says he was surprised to hear the infected MIQ staffer wasn't vaccinated.

"We've had the vaccine programme for border workers in place for a while now," he said.

"It is a surprise that there are still people who do have contact with MIQ residents who are still unvaccinated. That is something that should be looked at."

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said from Monday, border workers who refused to get the jab would be pulled from frontline roles.

4:35pm - Shaun Hendy is being interviewed by reporter Mitch McCann on Newshub Live at 4:30pm.

He says in the scheme of things, the positive test result of a MIQ worker represents "one of the lower-risk types of cases" health officials have dealt with.

"It's been caught in someone with a direct link to the border and we know the likely route of transmission," he explains.

"We don't like to hear of these things, but it's the type of case that we've handled well in the past without further transmission or with only a small number of other cases.

"So it's not hugelt concerning, but we do want to make sure we work at how it happened, and make sure we're seeing fewer of these [border cases]."

4:15pm - National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop has urged the Government to adopt five steps they've formulated to strengthen New Zealand's border:

  1. Introduce rapid antigen testing - nasal swab tests that return results in 15 minutes - for everyone getting off international flights.
  2. Vaccinate every border worker, and if they refuse then remove them from the frontline.
  3. Conduct daily saliva testing of every person who works in an MIQ facility.
  4. Start separating returnees from higher-risk countries and lower-risk countries into their own dedicated MIQ facilities.
  5. Investigate construction of a purpose-built COVID-19 quarantine facility on the outskirts of Auckland.

"National has been saying, since January, that if you arrive in New Zealand from a higher-risk destination then you should go into a high-risk hotel," Bishop says.

"People from higher-risk destinations, like India, should not be mixing and mingling in MIQ with passengers from the Pacific Islands, for example."

3:50pm - Australia isn't concerned about the border worker case. Greg Hunt, the Australian Health Minister, says our trans-Tasman partner has "confidence" on our approach.

"At this stage we have no advice of need to change, we have confidence in the New Zealand Government approach."

3:45pm - Des Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Auckland, has told Newshub the Government has made the right move, but it's months late.

"It's a very prudent and wise decision. It is something that some of us have been calling for for some time… it's late, but it's better later than never," Prof Gorman said.

He said it was the only option while we see large numbers of cases in MIQ.

"I think we should have pushed pause months ago on the high-risk countries and then looked at what our options were.

"One of those would be dedicated facilities for people from high-risk countries, but even then there would need to be a way of turning the tap down, reducing the number of people arriving until you have some confidence pre-departure testing and isolation is working."

3:30pm - In an hour's time, Newshub Live at 4:30pm presenter Mitch McCann will interview Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini Shaun Hendy live.

Hendy is considered one of New Zealand's foremost COVID-19 experts.

The bulletin will air on Three and be live-streamed on the Newshub website.

3:23pm - Criticisms are coming from both sides of the political divide after today's COVID-19 announcements.

National MP Chris Bishop asks why the MIQ border worker who tested positive hadn't yet got the jab.

"The government doesn’t know," he tweeted. "[Labour's Associate Health Minister] Ayesha Verrall also couldn't tell me in #NZQT how many border workers haven’t been vaccinated."

Earlier, Dr Bloomfield said the worker "certainly would've been offered" a vaccine. However it's not necessarily that he refused a jab, but that there might have been "some logistical issues".

3:17pm - Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is confounded by the ban on flights from India.

"Weird we didn't go with an all out ban as an option for US or UK entries, given their harrowing rates on COVID," she wrote on Twitter. "Our ethnic communities of South Asian origin need to know race isn't a factor in our COVID risk management."

3:12pm - Missed the press conference? You can watch the whole thing below.

3:03pm - The press conference has finished.

3pm - MIQ workers who haven't been vaccinated will be moved into other roles from Monday, Ardern says.

The decision around whether Kiwis can travel into high-risk countries will not be one the Government steps in on, and will continue to come down to individuals.

Asked why the Grand Millenium remains open after the emergence of recent cases there, Ardern said experts would make a judgement on whether they think it is safe.

2:57pm - If high proportions of arrivals from other countries start testing positive in New Zealand, the Prime Minister will consider extending a suspension to them too.

"I'm hoping there are further things we can do, and that's the reason for this [suspension]."

Ardern says health officials haven't identified any issue in MIQ facilities that are contributing to the large case numbers.

She estimates around 60 people from India have tested positive in New Zealand over the past two weeks.

2:54pm - Ardern says pre-departure testing has reduced the number of cases making their way to New Zealand, but not the number of cases from India.

She admits New Zealand has an obligiation to allow citizens to return to New Zealand, but says that's why the measure is only temporary.

"I understand the difficulty the suspension will cause," she said.

"It does mean we are limiting our own citizen's ability to return to New Zealand, so I don't know if [the suspension] will be any longer...

"There are other high-risk countries, but we just don't have the high number of travellers coming from those countries at present."

2:50pm - The Government will look into how it manages the risk posed by arrivals from high-risk countries while the suspension is in place, Ardern says.

"I do want to assure this this is not a permanent arrangement, rather a temporary measure while we investigate."

2:45pm - "It is to our border we do look again to manage this spike," Ardern continues. "Ultimately we do want to see fewer cases arriving in general."

The advice is people are likely getting the virus following their test while they travel to the airport.

In response, Ardern announces New Zealand will temporarily suspend entry into New Zealand from travellers from India.

It'll begin at 4pm on Sunday, April 11, and remain in place until Wednesday, April 28.

"We are looking at how we are managing high-risk points of departure generally," she adds.

2:42pm - She notes there has been a spike in cases overseas, especially in the likes of Brazil and India.

"WHO global reporting shows in just the past month, cases have been on the rise again internationally," she said.

"We are starting to see this global trend mirrored locally in those arriving in New Zealand."

She points out the seven-day average from the start of the year was sitting at 2-3, and didn't place much pressure on MIQ facilities. However recently cases have been increasing, and the rolling day average yesterday was seven - a high we haven't seen since last October.

2:38pm - Ardern is now speaking to media.

She says her press conference will focus on the 23 new border cases detected in New Zealand in the last day.

2:33pm - The Prime Minister is running late.

2:28pm - We are minutes away from Ardern's press conference.

Earlier, Dr Bloomfield revealed the Ministry of Health had been asked to provide advice to the Government about how best to manage the issue of new arrivals from high-risk countries.

He said Kiwis can expect an announcement from Ardern about the Government's response to the situation, and laid out some examples of extra measures that could be imposed on travellers.

"It could be requirements around the nature of the [pre-departure] test that is done… if we look at some of these cases, their onset of symptoms is pre-or during travel here," he said.

"So I guess we would be looking at what other measures could be put in place to prevent people travelling should they be or become symptomatic during the journey."

Read Jamie Ensor's full report here.

2:18pm - A reminder the Prime Minister is scheduled to speak to media at 2:30pm, and it'll be streamed live on the Newshub website.

She is expected to address concerns about the large number of recent arrivals from countries where COVID-19 is rampant, and may announce new measures.

2:10pm - An update on testing.

The Ministry of Health says another 6646 tests were processed on Wednesday, lifting the seven-day rolling average to 3528.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,927,613.

2:05pm - The Ministry of Health has released the arrival information of the 19 new cases who have since tested positive for COVID-19.

Sixteen of them are from India and all transitted through the United Arab Emirates.

You can see why the Government is considering measures to manage the increased risk of arrivals from high-risk countries.

A table of the new COVID-19 cases
The arrival details of New Zealand's new COVID-19 cases. Photo credit: Ministry of Health

2pm - With the 19 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the number of active cases in New Zealand has climbed to 95.

The total number of confirmed cases recorded in New Zealand since the pandemic first arrived on our shores is 2199.

1:50pm - Unite Against COVID-19 says the latest version of the NZ COVID Tracer app is now available to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

"Version 4.1.0 includes a number of new features that make the app faster, easier to use and more useful," the agency said.

In a press release on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health revealed the new features would include:

  • A dashboard showing how many days out of the past 14 you’ve used the app
  • A dashboard showing figures on how many New Zealanders are using the app - the same as the figures released regularly by the Ministry
  • A flashlight option for scanning in low light conditions - particularly useful for the winter months ahead. 

1:46pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is scheduled to speak to media at 2:30pm.

1:37pm - The press conference has now finished.

1:36pm - The advice to Government was that there didn't appear to be an issue with pre-departure testing or the authenticity of testing certificates, as those infected appeared to be so prior to departure to New Zealand.

Dr Bloomfield says the ministry's official advice to border workers is that they are vaccinated.

"It is the highest priority [to vaccinate border workers]... many of them have had two doses. I am pleased with the speed there."

1:34pm - Responding to concerns about allergic reactions to vaccines, Dr Bloomfield says they're "very manageable".

"Our vaccinators are trained to manage them on the spot. None of these people [who had reactions] required hospitalisation and they did recover," he said.

1:29pm - Health officials are weary of the number of rooms still available at Jet Park, considering the large number of border cases recently have all been sent there.

Dr Bloomfield says it's something they need to look into.

"I think we do need to keep our eyes on what's happening globally. This is the first time we have seen a significant number of cases coming from one country."

1:25pm - Dr Bloomfield says it's his understanding that the infected MIQ hotel worker - a security guard at the Grand Millennium - would "certainly have been offered" the vaccine.

However he says that doesn't necessarily mean he refused to get the jab.

"I think there were some logisitcial issues with it."

The man isolated at home overnight and has now been transferred to the Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility in Auckland.

1:23pm - The Ministry of Health believes the people on the flights from India via the United Arab Emirates were infected in India before they travelled to New Zealand.

It is possible there was in-flight transmission, but nothing indicates this yet, Dr Bloomfield says.

No decision has yet been made on whether to decrease the amount of people staying at the Grand Millennium while an audit is undertaken.

1:21pm - Dr Bloomfield says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will provide a COVID-19 update of her own at a stand-up on Thursday afternoon.

He says there may be additional requirements relating to people flying in from high-risk countries, and high-risk MIQ facilities may be established.

"It could be that we put everyone who has travelled from India in one facility," he said.

1:15pm - Dr Bloomfield has offered an explanation for what's behind the inflated case numbers recently.

He says there are several countries reporting very high numbers of cases each day - including Turkey, France, the UK and India - with others recording high numbers of COVID-19 deaths, including over 4000 in one day recorded in Brazil.

"There is a very active global pandemic and it can be hard to remember that here in New Zealand," he said.

"The high numbers of cases in our managed isolation facilities have rightly prompted the question of accuracy of predeparture testing...

"From our assessment of our positive PCR tests, these are recent onset infections largely being reported on day one of their stay here."

The increases in cases from these countries is directly affecting the number of travellers testing positive on our shores, he said.

1:10pm - There are 23 new cases of coronavirus - all of which are related to the border.

Dr Bloomfield says four of these are historical and not considered infectious. The rolling daily average for new cases over the last week now stands at five.

Ten more people recovered from COVID-19 on Thursday.

1:07pm - The case travels to work in a private vehicle, Dr Bloomfield says.

They worked over Easter in night shifts and did not visit anyone, but if locations of interest are identified the Ministry of Health will notify the public of them on its website.

Genome testing has been started, but as the infection has a high CT value (as it is an early or historical case) it will take longer. The results will likely come back on Friday afternoon.

The Grand Millennium was the MIQ facility in which a cleaner tested positive on March 20. They had the B117 variant, which was found in the UK. It was linked to a recent returnee in the facility

An audit at the facility is currently being undertaken due to the recent cases.

1:04pm - The worker was tested on Tuesday having reported having a sore throat four days ago. They had not yet been vaccinated.

Dr Bloomfield says they're either early in their infection, late in their infection or it is a historical  case.

The person lives alone but the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) is investigating.

1pm - There is one new border-related COVID-19 case, Dr Bloomfield confirms.

They're a 24-year-old who works at the Grand Millennium hotel, a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland.

12:40pm - We're 20 minutes away from the press conference. It will be streamed live on Three and on the Newshub website.

12:30pm - The press conference comes after 39 days without a coronavirus case in the community.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health revealed the Auckland February cluster - the source of New Zealand's most recent community outbreak - had officially closed, as two COVID-19 incubation cycles had passed since the last identified case recovered.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble would be established between New Zealand and Australia on April 19.