COVID-19 modeller predicts dramatic drop in possible cases after border link established

A COVID-19 modeller says it's great news a "really strong" link to the border was found in one of New Zealand's current cases, and it could drastically change the predictions for how many cases we see.

The cases in the cluster have now been genomically linked to a returnee who travelled from Sydney on a managed red-zone flight and arrived on August 7. The returnee was transferred to the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility and tested positive on August 9.  They were transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility that same day, but later became unwell and was moved to Middlemore Hospital on August 16.

Although it's still unknown how the virus escaped managed isolation, the genomic link is promising as it means there is a connection to the border, and the person who caught it from them was likely not infectious in the community for very long.

Professor Shaun Hendy from the University of Auckland told Newshub on Thursday because they are a "relatively new" arrival, it could bring the potential cases right down.

"Yesterday we were looking at a much longer time this virus had been in the community."

On Wednesday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said estimates for New Zealand's COVID-19 cases were between 50 to 120.

"We're just working on it now but I would say they'll be substantially smaller...maybe a few dozen cases," Hendy told Newshub.

He stressed we're not out of the woods yet, saying although there's less chance we've missed chains of transmission there are still a significant amount of exposure sites - some of which could be superspreader events.

"We still need to be cautious because we have had a number of exposure events over the weekend so we may well see quite a few secondary cases."

And it might not mean a shorter lockdown either.

"It will depend on information right up to the wire on whether we see cases outside the Auckland region. I would think the Government will be cautious and at least keep the current settings until the end of the weekend."

New Zealand currently has 21 cases of COVID-19 in the community, with eleven of those new cases since 1pm yesterday. All are being transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility.

Of the 21 community cases, 12 are part of the existing cluster, and eight are under investigation and are, as of yet, not formally linked - however there are "strong leads" that indicate they are connected to the outbreak, Dr Bloomfield said.

One previously reported case, the Air New Zealand crew member, is unlikely to be linked to the cluster and is therefore deemed to be border-related.