COVID-19: Stewart Island child returns weak positive test result

A child who returned a weak positive result for COVID-19 in Stewart Island is under investigation by health officials, but authorities are confident the "indeterminate" test is not indicative of an active infection. 

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said "everything points to a false positive". 

The child and their family had undergone pre-departure testing ahead of overseas travel, Dr Bloomfield said. The ministry was notified of the "very" weak positive result on Wednesday.

The child's family returned negative results and a further PCR swab taken from the child also tested negative, he added.

Health officials are now awaiting the results of serology testing, which are due later on Thursday. Dr Bloomfield said serology testing on the child's parents may indicate whether it had been a historical infection.

"Officials feel it's most likely a false positive."

Dr Bloomfield acknowledged there was a "possibility" the weak positive result could be a historical infection linked to last year's Bluff cluster, noting a number of cases would have likely never been identified amid the stringent lockdown.

"Serology will tell us," Ardern added.

However, a number of steps are being taken in the community as a precaution, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

While the investigation is underway, a local daycare centre attended by the child will be closed for the rest of the week as a precautionary measure. Possible contacts are also asked to isolate until further information is available.

A testing station will be open from 1pm at the Community Centre for other members of the small population.

Public health staff have so far been unable to identify any likely source of infection and given the relative isolation of the community, authorities currently believe the person is most likely not a case, the ministry reiterated.

Given Stewart Island's isolated nature, the DHB is mobilising teams of additional staff to provide increased testing on Thursday - primarily for people in the community with symptoms and for those linked to the childcare centre. It's expected any local residents seeking a test will also be accommodated.

Dr Bloomfield said additional staff on the ground would help to reassure the small community.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board chairman Jon Spraggon confirmed a team had travelled to the island to conduct testing this morning. 

He told Newshub that residents are maintaining the basic public health measures, such as logging movements with the NZ COVID Tracer app.

"Because we have visitors, everyone is well aware of COVID and taking necessary precautions," he said.

He added the news of the weak positive result is "probably a shock" for the isolated and close-knit community.

"It's something that we dread, it [getting] here. We'd hate to see it arrive on the island - but it would be more of a shock [if] it did get here."

Results from the additional testing are expected on Thursday.

Thursday's case update

In its update on Thursday, the Ministry of Health confirmed that two new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in managed isolation facilities in the past 24 hours, but the community continues to remain free of the virus.

Two patients who were receiving treatment at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital have now been discharged and taken back to the Jet Park quarantine facility.

One person has recovered from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 24.

To date, New Zealand has recorded a total of 2357 cases of COVID-19.

The two returnees tested positive on arrival on June 14 and June 15 respectively. The first travelled from South Africa via Qatar and the second from Indonesia via Singapore.

Quarantine-free travel pause

As announced earlier on Thursday, the suspension of quarantine-free travel with Victoria will continue until Tuesday. This decision follows a formal public health assessment on Wednesday and the consideration of further information since then.

Anyone who is eligible can continue returning to New Zealand on 'green flights', meaning they will not be required to isolate when they arrive home. However, they must provide evidence of a negative test result taken within three days of departure. A PCR test is required.

All passengers travelling on a return 'green flight' must also complete the Nau Mai Râ contact information and complete the health declaration to confirm they have not visited a location of interest.

Travellers who are not covered by the restrictions in Victoria - and who have not visited a location of interest at the specified times - can still travel quarantine-free from other states and will not require a pre-departure test. All travellers to New Zealand are encouraged to use the NZ COVID-19 Tracer app, stay put if they are sick, and to wear a mask on all flights and public transport.

Locations of interest - VIC, QLD and NSW

As of 9am on Thursday, Australian health authorities have identified almost 200 locations of interest or possible exposure sites in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.

Anyone who was at a location of interest at the specified times cannot travel to New Zealand within 14 days of the exposure event.

Anyone who was at a location of interest at the specified time should call Healthline on 0800 358 5453, get tested, and self-isolate until a negative result is returned.  

The Ministry of Health is urging New Zealanders who have been in Victoria, regional New South Wales or regional Queensland to check the following websites to determine whether they were at any of the locations of interest: