Covid 19 coronavirus: Infected MIQ worker ‘low risk’, sport stars line up for early vaccinations

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the latest case of an infected MIQ worker poses a “low risk”.

The adult relative of the infected MIQ cleaner has now tested negative for the virus. An earlier “weak positive” result was now considered a false positive.

The worker’s genome sequencing confirmed the case was related to a guest at the Grand Millennium hotel MIQ facility from March 13-15.

“The returnee’s infection had been picked up in routine day zero testing and they were then moved to the Auckland quarantine facility.  This provides reassurance that the current case was infected at the workplace, rather than in the community.”

Investigations were now underway into whether the MIQ worker may have cleaned the guest’s room and become infected that way, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

There remains one location of interest: the Mt Roskill Countdown supermarket which the cleaner visited for 15 minutes from 3pm on Saturday before testing positive.

There were three new Covid cases reported today in managed isolation, with the travellers from Ethiopia, India and Indonesia.

Criteria for early vaccinations

The Government has confirmed Kiwis can apply to get the jab early if they are travelling overseas.

Hipkins said there were strict criteria for these for early vaccinations – and only would be granted “for people who need to travel outside of New Zealand on compassionate grounds or for reasons of national significance”.

The compassionate grounds that would be considered for travel overseas include:

• those needing to provide critical care and protection for a dependant;

• those accessing critical medical care that is not available in New Zealand;

• those visiting an immediate family member who is dying.

“This does not include reuniting with family, attending a funeral or memorial service, or attending a school or university,” Hipkins said.

The “national significance” overseas travel grounds cover those representing New Zealand in an official capacity:

• at significant international events;

• and in an official non-government capacity.

The international travel rules would apply to people who were travelling “in our national interest”, Hipkins said.

“It will not include private, or recreational travel.”

New Zealand Cricket said earlier this month that it was hoping its leading players will be some of the first people in the country to receive Covid-19 vaccinations outside of border workers, their families and front-facing health workers.

The organisation confirmed it is in discussions with the Government ahead of a busy year of touring for the Black Caps, including competing in the inaugural World Test Championship final in June.

Hipkins said the Black Capswould need to apply to be considered for early vaccines, while Olympic athletes would meet the criteria.

Asked which sports would be eligible for the “national significance” criteria, Hipkins said: “Those sports that everyone is hanging out on TV to watch”.

It was in the Government’s interest to protect those heading overseas with the vaccine.

Applications will open on March 31.

Hipkins said funerals are difficult for families, but there was something special about “those last few moments” he said when asked why funerals were not included in the early vaccination criteria.

“We do have to draw the line somewhere.”

People approved for the early vaccinations would still be required to spend 14 days in managed isolation when they returned to New Zealand.

The early vaccination criteria was decided by Cabinet, with input from the Ministry of Health.

There have been 41,500 vaccinations in New Zealand to date.

Asked about the vaccination schedule, Hipkins said New Zealand was “broadly on schedule”.

By next Tuesday, there will be 50 clinics around New Zealand.

Those clinics will administer the vaccines.

He said he did not want to get in a position where New Zealand had to scale down its vaccine rollout while it waited for more doses to arrive in New Zealand.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the ministry had delivered about 93 per cent of the vaccines it had expected to.

That meant New Zealand was “slightly” behind schedule.

Bloomfield said health officials had “no further leads” about how the Valentine’s Day cluster got into the community.

“We have drawn a blank on it,” he said.

But the Government would continue to look into it and the investigation was not closed.

Changes to MIQ regime

The Government this morning announced it will double the time required to stay in New Zealand before returnees can avoid paying MIQ fees.

And it is making it more expensive for some non-Kiwi partners, children or legal guardians to come to New Zealand.

Currently, any New Zealand citizen or permanent resident returning from overseas who has not been in the country since August 11 last year – and who stays here for 90 days – is not liable to pay charges for the $3100 fee for 14 days in MIQ.

From June 1, returnees will need to stay in New Zealand for at least 180 days.

“This change will support the Government’s aim of making the MIQ system more financially sustainable,” the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which runs MIQ, said in a statement.

“It is estimated that extending the minimum period to 180 days will affect about 3 per cent of returning New Zealanders.”

On Monday night the Ministry of Health revealed a relative of a Covid-infected cleaner at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility had returned a “weak positive” test for the virus.

The employee, a cleaner, and their immediate household members were isolating at their home in Auckland on Monday night.

Testing shows that person has tested negative for the virus.

The cleaner visited the Mt Roskill Countdown supermarket on Stoddard Rd on Saturday from 3pm to 3.15pm.

The risk was low to the community, Hipkins said.

This morning, he revealed a relative of the MIQ worker had initially returned a “weak positive” Covid test result, but it was confirmed they had subsequently tested negative.

The MIQ cleaner infected with Covid-19 also visited an Auckland childcare centre before testing positive, it emerged earlier today.

The person visited the BestStart St Lukes centre to collect a grandchild on Friday, Stuff reports.

The Ministry of Health has not yet disclosed the childcare centre as a location of interest.

More details will be released at 1pm today.

A Countdown supermarket in Auckland’s CBD was closed temporarily after a staff member said they “may have tested positive for Covid”.

Countdown Quay St was closed at midday yesterday but reopened today.

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