Epidemiologist's grim prediction for Auckland's COVID-19 lockdown status as mystery cases surge

A professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland has grim news for residents of the city of sails after three people tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday - after they attended Middlemore Hospital recently.

On Saturday afternoon, Counties Manukau DHB was alerted a woman who had been in the hospital's birthing and assessment unit on Wednesday had developed symptoms the following day. She took a COVID-19 test which returned a positive result and is now in a managed isolation facility.

After the frustrating news for Aucklanders, epidemiologist Rod Jackson said residents should brace themselves for the bad news.  

"Level four for another week was my initial reaction," Dr Jackson told Newshub.

The Government will make a decision on whether Auckland remains in lockdown on Monday, as well as the status of the rest of New Zealand/

The issue for Jackson, he said, was the mystery cases of COVID-19 that continue to pop up every day in Auckland. There are now 36 cases that have so far not been linked to the current outbreak and that could see Aucklanders remain in lockdown for the fifth week, Dr Jackson said.  

"Until we get the mystery cases down to zero we have a major problem," he said. "They may not be mystery cases, these people may not remember they came in contact with someone that had the virus we already know about, but until they become epidemiologically linked we have a problem."

New Zealand recorded 23 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday - all in Auckland - which is more than double the total that was announced on Friday. The slight spike in cases doesn't worry Dr Jackson and feels New Zealand is still on top of the virus.

"When I saw the 23 cases that didn't bother me much because it's not about those numbers, as they're way down which is great news and we're definitely getting on top of this," he said.

"We know how to get rid of this outbreak but it's the number of mystery cases which is the problem and until these cases become epidemiologically linked, we have a major problem."

Dr Jackson had a stern message for Aucklanders as they battle to stamp out the virus. 

"If you leave the house, go out and behave as if you have COVID-19 and that everyone has the virus. So that means keeping away from them, wearing a mask, using the COVID-19 Tracer App or if you don't have the app, or you're going somewhere where it won't be useable, keep a note," Dr Jackson told Newshub

"The next week or two, we need every Aucklander to behave like that. 

"You need to do everything you can to break that link because it might sound trite but getting rid of this outbreak is incredibly simple; you keep infected people away from uninfected people. Now that is going to sound like a joke but it is as simple as that."