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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is warning more community cases are likely to be discovered in coming days so it’s important people follow lockdown rules because “Covid kills”.
And, she has a blunt message for anyone who is not complying with isolation rules – expect a knock at the door from police.
Her comments come after it was revealed a recent case went to the gym when he should have been at home after having a Covid test – something that has angered many in the community and generated numerous calls for greater consequences for those who don’t self-isolate.
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Aucklanders are back in level-3 restrictions for a full week and the rest of New Zealand is at level 2 after the 21-year-old MIT student visited various public locations before testing positive.
He then went to the gym when he should have been in isolation. His mother has also tested positive.
Now the country is waiting to find out if any of the people he’s been in contact with will go on to test positive for the UK strain of the virus – something the experts say is a real possibility.
“There may be multiple people who are currently incubating the virus [in the community] and will test positive in the next few days,” Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles told the Herald.
And, Wiles said it was not “hugely clear yet” whether level 3 restrictions would be good enough when it comes to this outbreak.
“Certainly, level four restrictions would deal with [the outbreak] faster because there are much fewer interactions between people.”
She said changing alert levels is something that officials might have to look at over the coming days, if new community cases are detected.
Testing has revealed that the sequencing of the student and his mother shows close links to another Papatoetoe family, with members who have already tested positive.
If this link is confirmed, it would be good news, meaning the new cases are from the same Valentine’s Day cluster that generated a three-day lockdown for Aucklanders earlier this month, rather than a new unknown outbreak.
“That reinforces that we are still only looking for one source of infection,” said director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Last night another person not linked to the 21-year-old tested positive but there is no risk to the community as they were already in quarantine with relatives as a precaution during the time they were infectious.
Bloomfield said that level 3 restrictions were enough to handle the outbreak “at this point”.
“As long as everybody does what they need to do in alert level 3.”
Ardern said preventing death was the “primary reason” behind the short and sharp lockdowns.
“It is to save our people’s lives, and to save their livelihoods.”
Because the latest cases are of the highly transmissible and unpredictable UK strain she said it was unlikely Auckland would be moving out of level 3 before the seven-day lockdown was finished.
Arden acknowledged the “frustration” at the fact case M broke isolation rules and went out when he should have been isolating at home – a move which she said had “dire consequences”.
And she is clearly not alone, with many Aucklanders taking to social media to vent their frustration.
Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said the non-compliance would have irritated everyone who was obeying the rules.
But, he said attacking the person who made the mistake was not helpful.
Ardern agreed – “No one wants Covid in our community. But equality we won’t beat it by turning on each other”.
That does not mean, however, the Government is sitting on its hands when it comes to making sure people who need to be isolating are at home.
At the moment, health officials check in on people who are meant to be isolating via a phone call.
If a health official can’t get hold of someone who is meant to be isolating, there will be an in-person visit which could involve the police, if necessary.
But National is calling for the Government to go further.
For example, random phone calls to those who should be in isolation and a request for them to confirm their location with a video call or photographic evidence.
“Monitoring of self-isolators should be ramped up to guarantee compliance,” National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said.
“This means regular spot checks, and if no contact is made within 24 hours then the police are involved,”
Meanwhile, Ardern has confirmed that the people in South Auckland will receive the vaccine first when it comes to the general rollout midway through the year.
“It would make absolute sense that we would start a vaccination programme in areas like South Auckland as there is higher risk there.”
She said 75 per cent of people who have been vaccinated so far have been from this area – these are frontline border and MIQ workers.
“Our border workforce is predominantly a South Auckland workforce.”
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