Two Aucklanders are being treated as confirmed community Covid-19 cases by the Ministry of Health.
In a statement late last night, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said it was likely the pair contracted the virus at their managed isolation facility, Auckland's Pullman Hotel - the same facility where it is believed the 56-year-old Northland woman contracted the virus on Saturday, causing mass testing in the region.
"While we still can't categorically rule these out as historical infections, test results so far indicate the two people may have contracted Covid-19 towards the end of their stay in managed isolation, after returning two negative tests each during their stay", Bloomfield said.
"It's too early to early to make a firm conclusion. Genome sequencing results, which are expected tomorrow, and serology results expected the following day, will help develop the picture further."
However, out of an "abundance of caution", Bloomfield said the Ministry is now responding as if these are confirmed current infections.
In its statement, the Ministry released a list of exposure events which include a location, date and time.
Locations of interest:
-BBQ King Albany
Jan 17, 11am-2pm
-Pak n Save Silverdale
Jan 17, 2pm-2.30pm
-BBQ King Albany
Jan 17, 5pm-9pm
-Pak n Save Albany
Jan 18, midday-12.30pm
-BBQ King Albany
Jan 18, 12.30pm-3pm
Jan 18, 1pm-1.30pm
-BBQ King Albany
Jan 18, 5pm-9pm
-Hickeys Pharmacy Orewa
Jan 23, 12.30pm-1.30pm
Jan 24, midday-1pm
-Tai Ping Supermarket Albany
Jan 24, midday-1pm
-New World Orewa
Jan 25, 1pm-2pm
-Tai Ping Supermarket Northcote
Jan 26, 12.30pm-1pm
Bloomfield asked anyone who has visited those locations during the time period, in Auckland with symptoms, to isolate and call Healthline to arrange a test and remain isolated until they receive their result.
"It's important the right people isolate and get tested, so we don't overwhelm testing centres," he said.
But he said there is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission — "but we need the right people to isolate and get tested".
"We understand that many will be anxious, but it's important to remember we are carrying out these measures as a precaution."
He said the two former returnees were initially classified as under investigation after returning positive tests and pending further investigation to determine if the infections were recent or historical.
They returned a second positive test with a higher CT value which led to them being treated as confirmed cases, Bloomfield said.
He added that a third person in the family's bubble has tested negative and the two family members who tested positive are in the process of being moved to Auckland's quarantine facility.
The two positive cases completed quarantine on 15 January and have been residing in North Auckland since - further interviews are being carried out to determine the family's detailed movements since they left managed isolation to identify close and casual contacts.
Meanwhile, Bloomfield said a number of steps have already been put in place at the Pullman hotel.
&Bull; a deep clean of commonly used areas
&Bull; tighter restrictions on movement of returnees including no arrivals or departures
&Bull; increasing hotel ventilation
&Bull; requesting returnees who've recently left, to not fly, to stay home and have an additional test within 48 hours
&Bull; restricting staff from working at other sites
&Bull; tighter restrictions on movement of returnees including no arrivals or departures from the facility.
And a number of walk-in / drive-thru community testing centres will be open in Auckland — some with extended hours, Bloomfield said.
In Auckland, they can be found at:
&Bull; NORTHCOTE COMMUNITY TESTING CENTRE
&Bull; BALMORAL COMMUNITY TESTING CENTRE
&Bull; WHĀNAU HOUSE, WAIPAREIRA TRUST HENDERSON
&Bull; HEALTH NEW LYNN
&Bull; THE WHĀNAU ORA COMMUNITY CLINIC
&Bull; ŌTARA COMMUNITY TESTING CENTRE
In what could be a lesson for Auckland in the coming days, Bloomfield highlighted the efforts of those in the community and in the health sector for how the response to Northland's recent case was handled in yesterday's 1pm Government Covid-19 briefing.
"I just want to reiterate our thanks to everyone in the community, and those in the health workforce locally and throughout the country, for the hard work, patience and co-operation," he said.
"It is the swift action from those involved, including those who follow the public health messages, that ensures the response is successful in heading off any community transmission."
Nearly 3000 people across Northland had been tested since Sunday. On Tuesday, Healthline received 2600 calls nationally - 1000 from Northland. There was an increase in the number of 25 to 45-year-olds calling Healthline, indicating the age-group most likely to visit the 30-odd locations linked to the case.
Northland medical officer of health Dr Catherine Jackson said the public response had been excellent, even on a national scale.
"As a percentage of the population, more people in Northland were tested yesterday than Auckland's busiest day during the August outbreak," she said.
Yesterday, the Northern Advocate reported concerns of local hapū Patuharakeke who were not pleased to find insufficient toilet and water facilities at the Ruakākā racecourse testing station on Tuesday morning.
Jackson said the testing workforce had been strengthen by Auckland health staff in addition to help from local iwi, council and police, but she admitted resources were stretched.
"The unprecedented demand is placing enormous pressure on the testing infrastructure, including facilities like portaloos, even though we continue to add more resources, so we need the public to help us by staying away if they don't need to be tested."
The hapū expressed further concerns that the toilets - which were seemingly three portaloos grouped together for a 200-car queue - had no means for sanitising surfaces after use.
Jackson recommended people use a bathroom before attending a testing station but also advised people to pack hand sanitiser if soap and water were not available.
She reiterated that the people most in need of testing were those who had been at the Covid-linked locations at same time as the positive case.
"The only people who need to be tested right now [were] either at a location of interest at a specific time, or who have cold and flu symptoms and have been advised by Healthline or their doctor to get a test."
She asked all others to be patient while those with the most need were tested first.
Nearly all of the Covid-linked locations in Northland had reopened after learning of their connection to the latest case. For stores such as Ruakākā's FreshChoice and Okara Shopping Centre's Bendon outlet, staff drove from Auckland as local workers waited for test results.
Most of the businesses' staff had returned negative tests and stores were back to normal hours today. The only one that looked unlikely to open this week was the White Rock Gallery in Matakohe, which would likely stay shut for the rest of the week as a precaution to protect its elderly population.