COVID-19: New Lynn park in Auckland removed as location of interest after visitors wrongly urged to isolate for 14 days, get tested

Residents of the west Auckland suburb of New Lynn were left scratching their heads after a local park was identified as a location of interest on Tuesday night, despite it being an open, outdoors area.

Anyone who visited Shadbolt Park on Portage Road between 7:30pm and 8:30pm on Friday, October 15 was instructed by the Ministry of Health to self-isolate for 14 days after the date of exposure and get tested for COVID-19 immediately. They were also asked to get further tests on day five and day 12.

The most common advice for people who have visited a location of interest is to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days after the date of exposure. However, these people are only required to get a test and stay at home if they develop symptoms. In this case, they must remain at their place of residence until a negative result is returned and for 24 hours after the symptoms resolve. 

These instructions apply to a significant number of indoor locations of interest, where transmission is more likely to occur due to closer proximity between people and shared surfaces.

However, transmission is not as likely to occur in outdoor spaces - which is why two weeks ago, the Government relaxed the restrictions in Auckland to allow residents to socialise with one other household in an outdoor environment, as long as mask use and physical distancing is maintained. Only up to 10 people can mingle at any given time.

During the announcement on October 4, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the restrictions had been relaxed as research into COVID-19 indicates the virus "finds it hard to spread outdoors".

"Aucklanders will be able to connect with family and loved ones again but only outside," Ardern said during the press conference. "The science tells us COVID finds it hard to spread outdoors.

"It may sound like the outdoor part isn't relevant, but it is in fact the most relevant part of all - keep it outside. This part is absolutely fundamental to this change. The natural ventilation provided by being outside makes it hard for the virus to spread, which makes outdoor gatherings the safest option.

"Be careful, wear a mask... give other groups a wide berth."

The oddity of the park being added as a location of interest with such strong public health advice did not escape The AM Show host Ryan Bridge, who raised the issue on Wednesday morning.

"Everyone's going, 'what?' Because normally if it's inside, like a gas station, they say monitor for symptoms. So everyone's saying, 'what is happening with Shadbolt Park in New Lynn?'" he said.

"What was going on there on Friday night that warranted such a strong reaction from the Government?"

Ashley Bloomfield later put the mystery to bed.
Ashley Bloomfield later put the mystery to bed. Photo credit: Getty Images

Bridge put the question to COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins, who appeared on the show shortly after. Hipkins said he didn't have any information regarding what had happened at Shadbolt Park that night.

"I'm not quite sure what the detail behind that is."

But the mystery was later put to bed during the press conference on Wednesday afternoon, with Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, confirming the park had been removed as a location of interest.

"It has now been reclassified as an exposure event and has been taken down from the Ministry of Health website. Having looked further into the event, which was being managed by a PHU [public health unit] elsewhere in the country, it's now been assessed as being an exposure event with a small number of people who are contacts," he said.

"They are all known and have all been contacted and are all isolating. No one else is being sought in relation to the event."