New Zealand faces an anxious wait as health officials scramble to determine whether Covid-19 is again spreading in the community after a Northland woman tested positive for the virus after leaving managed isolation.
The 56-year-old, who lives south of Whangārei, was released from MIQ in Auckland on January 13, developed mild symptoms on January 15 and got tested on January 22 after her condition deteriorated.
She visited 30 locations while travelling around southern Northland.
The list includes supermarkets, clothing and electronic stores, cafes, restaurants, a gallery, plant centre, museum, pharmacy, vehicle testing station and tavern. It includes locations in Whangārei, Ruakaka, Parua Bay, Mangawhai Heads and Helensville. The full list is published below.
It covers a period from January 14 – the day after she left MIQ – to January 22 – the day she got tested.
The Ministry of Health said anyone who visited the locations of interest during the relevant times is considered to have had a low risk of exposure but should isolate and call Healthline about when and where to get a test.
It is New Zealand’s first reported community case since November and has sparked a rush to identify how the woman got infected, and whether the virus has spread further.
She is now in isolation at her home with her husband, who has also been tested and is awaiting the results.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said it was still too early to say whether any restrictions or alert level changes would be needed, or how the woman got the virus.
“We don’t have the relevant information we need to make any further decisions on that. As soon as we do we will keep people informed.”
He said anybody who had symptoms should get a test, wherever they were in New Zealand.
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman had only four close contacts, who were now isolating for 14 days.
However, she had been to about 30 different places while potentially infectious – including in Mangawhai, Dargaville and down to Helensville as well as Whangārei.
Anybody who had been at the same businesses at the relevant times was asked to isolate, call Healthline and get a Covid-19 test.
The low number of close contacts has Covid-19 experts optimistic that a lockdown will be avoided – but they warn the test results of those contacts could be critical.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said while the new case was concerning, there were only four close contacts.
“Going forward, it will be important to determine whether the person acquired the case in managed isolation and quarantine, as this might mean there are other returnees who could have been exposed and officials will want to tighten any procedures that could have led to exposure.”
The names of the businesses the woman visited were going onto the Ministry of Health website but only after the businesses themselves were advised of the contact: a delay that has prompted criticism given many people were returning from holiday over the past week.
The list was released about 9 o’clock last night.
National’s health spokesman and Whangarei-based list MP Shane Reti said there was a sense of disbelief among the community and he was very disappointed the 30 sites were not revealed immediately.
“In matters of urgency like this and on a weekend – so you are not going to maybe get people until Monday in their business hours – I think urgency trumps some of the other concerns.”
Mangawhai is a popular holiday spot for Aucklanders and many could have left the area to return to work over the past week.
Extra testing stations will be set up in Northland, especially around Mangawhai.
The woman had used the Covid tracer app, so others who had scanned or had bluetooth activated would be alerted.
The woman’s case also sparked concern about potential transmission in the MIQ facility.
She had stayed at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland for her isolation period until January 13, and the Covid-19 team were scanning CCTV footage to check for any possible instances of infection transmission.
Genomic sequencing was also taking place to see if it was the same strain as other cases from the Pullman.
Bloomfield said until that was known, they were acting on the assumption it was one of the fast-spreading UK or South African variants. About a dozen others at the Pullman in Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19 during the woman’s stay and several had those variants.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said the case was different from the August Auckland cluster, given authorities were dealing with just one case with a probable link to the border – rather than several with no connection.
“But it’s a little bit of a waiting game to get the results from testing of close contacts – that’s the key thing at this stage – and once we get those test results, we’ll know whether it’s spread more widely.”
The woman left the Pullman on January 13 and told health officials she got very mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, on January 15 but did not associate them with Covid-19 until they worsened over the week. She got tested on January 22, and the positive result came through on Saturday night.
The woman had returned from a work trip for about four months in Spain, and visited family in the Netherlands on the way back. She returned via London where she stayed in an airport hotel, and transited through Singapore.
The woman was isolating at home with her husband while she recovered, rather than moving into the quarantine facility at the Jet Park with other Covid-19 cases.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said the Northland District Health Board Medical Officer of Health had decided that was appropriate in their case.
“The situation will be monitored closely to ensure there is no public health risk.”
Hipkins said all staff at the Pullman who had not had a test in the last few days were being tested. About 600 others who had stayed at the Pullman over the same period were also being asked to isolate and get tests.
The full list is:
• FreshChoice Ruakaka – January 14 – 3.03pm-4.33pm
• Aesthetic Clothing Store – January 15 – 8.48am-9.53am
• Noel Leeming Whangarei – January 15 – 9.02am-10.12am
• Bendon Whangarei – January 15 – 9.03am-10.30am
• The Warehouse Whangarei – January 15 – 9.28am-10.58am
• Flaming Fires – January 15 – 10.24am-11.34am
• Whangarei and Kamo Testing Stations – January 15 – 10.40am-11.45am
• Bed Bath and Beyond Whangarei – January 15 – 10.54am-12.04pm
• Fat Camel Cafe – January 15 – 11.34am-1.34pm
• Parua Bay Tavern – January 15 – 3.20pm-5.20pm
• Bream Bay ButchersRuakaka – January 16 – 11.02am-12.07pm
• Ruakaka General Store – January 16 – 11.08am-12.10pm
• FreshChoice Ruakaka – January 16 – 11.10am-12.15pm
• Urban Remedy Cafe – January 17 – 8.17am-9.47am
• Joseph Taylor Homewares – January 17 – 2.08pm-3.18pm
• Eutopia Cafe – January 18 – 8.55am-10.55am
• Maungaturoto 2nd hand shop – January 18 – 10.06am-11.36am
• Maungaturoto Four Square – January 18 – 10.44am-11.49am
• White Rock Gallery – January 18 – 11.15am-12.24pm
• The Kauri Museum – January 18 – 11.21am-3.21pm
• Gumdiggers Cafe Matakohe – January 18 – 12:39 pm – 2:39 pm
• The Dune Restaurant & Bar- 18 January – 4.47pm-7.17pm
• Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens – January 19 – 11.04am-1.04pm
• The Ville Turkish Cafe Helensville – January 19 – 1.08pm-2.38pm
• Countdown Helensville – January 19 – 1.46pm-3.01pm
• Super Liquor Helensville – January 19 – 2.03pm-3.08pm
• South Head General Store – January 19 – 2.44pm-3.49pm
• Macnut Cafe Helensville – January 21 – 10.20am-11.50am
• Orrs Unichem Pharmacy Ruakaka – January 22 – 11.21am-12.26pm
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