Jacinda Ardern on the likelihood of a longer lockdown after new COVID-19 community transmission

The likelihood of Auckland going into an extended lockdown will depend on whether the source of COVID-19 community transmission is found and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern aims to give plenty of notice. 

"I would like to give notice. I do like to give notice if we can do that. Certainly, making public announcements at midnight is not what we intend, so we've put in until midnight and we'd look to give people advanced notice," she said on Wednesday. 

"I don't want to put a time on that right now because I want to make sure that whatever decision we make is informed by the most up to date information we have."

The Prime Minister held an emergency press conference on Tuesday night to inform Aucklanders they would be put into alert level 3 lockdown until midnight on Friday, after four cases of COVID-19 in the community were discovered with an unknown source. 

A person in their 50s was confirmed as having COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon, the first community case reported in Auckland since May 22. Since that time members of the household have also tested positive, and there are potentially hundreds of close contacts at their workplaces. 

It has been revealed that two of the confirmed cases of the virus travelled to Rotorua last weekend and attended tourist attractions, but the rest of the country is only at alert level 2, so you don't have to stay home if you're not in Auckland. 

The Prime Minister said the likelihood of Auckland going into alert level 4 lockdown will depend on the results of widespread testing and genome sequencing of the virus - that will reveal what strain of the coronavirus has been detected. 

"That can tell us about different strains of COVID. There are a range of different strains, some more common than others. It may help us narrow down information, it may not," Ardern said. 

"We have a workplace where we are testing surfaces because we know that, although we primarily look for human-to-human transmission, we do need to check whether or not we can rule out whether there's been freight or so on that has played a role here."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put Auckland into alert level 3.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put Auckland into alert level 3. Photo credit: Getty

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said studies overseas have shown the virus can survive in refrigerated places, so the Government is not ruling out that the virus arrived on freight from overseas. 

"We have ruled out a false positive," he said. 

The Prime Minister said the best case scenario is that if health officials are able to identify the source of the infection, it will give them a greater ability to be able to ensure that they have adequately contact traced and isolated individuals. 

"If we're unable to identify the source, and we continue to see positives that are perhaps difficult to link, that does make it more difficult," she said. "But you won't have to wait till Friday - you'll hear us as we continue to give updates around some of the information that we're able to uncover."

Capacity at Auckland's four Community Testing Centres has been boosted, and Ardern said health officials will be working through testing everyone working at the state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities for returnees - that's about 7000 people. 

"What we are doing is working through a system of testing everyone working at our MIQs whether they are on shift or off shift to make sure that we have covered off those high-risk areas."

Ardern rejected suggestions that the Government had been withholding information about the new community transmission cases. 

"I have heard suggestion that we may have had this information earlier than we have said. There is no reason why we would ever do that," she said. 

"I hope that you'll hear from the timeline that we set out that we have moved very, very quickly including informing the public. I do worry that those kind of theories do nothing to support what needs to be collective action from all of us."

PM's timeline of finding out

  • The Prime Minister went to a public event in Whananui at about 3:15pm on Tuesday. 
  • She left the event at about 4pm. 
  • When she was in the privacy of a van, she was informed of a COVID-19 case in the community, and she immediately spoke to her chief of staff and the Minister of Health. 
  • She was informed that additional swabbing was being taken to confirm that it wasn't a false positive. 
  • She was told testing was being undertaken of the close contacts including wider family and health officials were giving them a briefing at 5:30pm. 
  • The Prime Minister was still on the road back to Wellington at that time and she sought information on whether the new case was linked to overseas travel or border staff. 
  • She arrived at Parliament at close to 7pm and immediately met with Health Minister Chris Hipkins. 
  • By 7:30pm, all-of-Government response and health officials had convened. 
  • After that Ardern met with ministers who have power to act - including Hipkins, Winston Peters, Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker - to brief them on the decisions being made. 
  • Ardern then called Opposition leader Judith Collins to inform her. 
  • She then called Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. 
  • She then held the press conference at 9:15pm.