Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall has revealed a man with Covid-19 was able to evade a perimeter patrol, CCTV cameras and two fences to flee a new Auckland MIQ facility overnight.
He was last seen at 1am this morning and was only arrested by police almost 14 hours later.
"I want to be clear, it is not easy to get out of MIQ. They are well-staffed, there is CCTV throughout a perimeter patrol and two fences," Verrall told Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan.
"You have got to be quite deliberate to get out of MIQ."
Verrall said there will be an investigation.
Asked where the escapee went, Verrall said it's a "priority action for this evening".
She wouldn't confirm reports that the man had gone home.
"That's what I read in the media, but I haven't had it confirmed by police. We will work with police and contact tracers. We need to make sure contact tracing is done.
"He is in police custody and is being interviewed by public health."
Quizzed on why it had taken authorities at least 12 hours to detain the man, Verrall said she didn't "have the details of how the apprehension of him was carried out".
"We need an investigation to make sure this doesn't happen in MIQ again."
Switching subjects, Verrall said, "there's much more reassuring [Covid] numbers coming out today" - in particular the number of cases that were contacts of known cases.
"There are only a handful of cases where there's been transmission at workplaces recently," Verrall said.
"One of the most important things we can do...is have really high rates of testing going forward."
49 community cases today, Northland to move to level 3 tonight
Earlier on Thursday, the Government announced 49 new Covid-19 cases but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that only seven of these were infectious while in the community.
Ardern has also confirmed that Northland will move to alert level 3 tonight. The Prime Minister said the extension this week was needed to get reassurance of no wider transmission - but could confirm Northland would move to level three from 11.59pm tonight.
Asked about the South Island's alert level, Ardern said it was not part of the plan to bring the South Island to level 2 earlier than the rest of the country. It would still be reviewed on September 6.
"Stepping down cautiously is the best way to ensure when we do move down, we can stay there."
There are 512 known contacts of cases in the South Island - of those 15 were overdue for their day 12 tests and 7 were not yet due for that. However, Ardern said those were only the known contacts and it was possible others were out there.
Ardern said it was not unusual for case numbers to move around, but there were positive trends in the numbers.
Ardern said she expected to continue to see cases of in-house transmission but lockdown was helping stop the spread beyond that.
"We do just need to make sure we are sticking to the plan. If you are a contact, have been to a location of interest and are advised to stay home, you must do so. If you don't you risk prolonging the lockdown for yourself and for others."
There are 42 cases in hospital and six of these are in ICU or on a high-dependency unit.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said the youngest person in ICU was only 18. All of the cases were stable.
"This is not a trivial infection."
Bloomfield said when there were more cases than there were negative pressure rooms, patients needed to be moved into a dedicated Covid ward - and that was now happening.
He said extra nurses were being brought in to ensure that dedicated nurses only worked with Covid patients.
Bloomfield said just over 100 staff were coming from other DHBs to help with the Covid cases.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG
Bloomfield stressed that infection numbers could still bounce around a bit and said there were four cases in MIQ. Of today's cases, he said about 45 were the result of day 12 tests.
Eighty-five per cent of yesterday's cases were contacts of other known cases.
Bloomfield said 30,283 contacts had been contacted by the health workers, more than 80 per cent of all contacts.
About 86 per cent of all contacts had been tested and 96 per cent of the contacts in Northland had returned tests. All were negative, he said.
Ardern wanted to see a greater proportion of those who were contacts, or had been at locations of interest, stay at home.
Health officials were focusing on the so-called "mystery cases" who were not close contacts to try to identify and keep them home, she said.
She said overall there were good levels of compliance among those who had been told to isolate. The trouble was mainly in cases who had gone to a shop before they knew they had potentially been exposed.
Auckland testing 'needs to be higher'
Bloomfield said there were just over 6000 swabs taken yesterday.
"We need to have higher levels of testing across Tamaki Makaurau to have confidence we have the outbreak under control."
There are no unexpected results in wastewater testing. All testing from Northland had returned negative results.
Bloomfield said wastewater testing had been done in places that covered 95 per cent of the population.
Prison officer Covid case
On the Spring Hill prison case, Bloomfield said negative results had since been returned from the prison officer and it was now under investigation.
A Mid Central case has since been determined to be a historic case.
Boost to Whanau Ora
Almost $50 million in additional funding to assist Whanau Ora and Pasifika providers, and to help the Covid vaccination rollout.
Ardern said that was particularly important given the high impact the outbreak was having on the Pacific community - and the numbers of people who had been asked to isolate in this outbreak.
Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare said Whanau Ora had moved quickly to provide the support needed and $23m of the $49m would go to Whanau Ora.
The providers would help with food, goods and other essentials, as well as the health needs of their communities.
Asked if there had to be a crisis mode to secure this kind of funding for Whanau Ora, Ardern said extra funding has been given before but the outbreak created extra need.
Some of the funding would be held back while the need was assessed, so it was targeted where needed most.
Ardern said it would also help innovation in the rollout of the vaccine, as efforts were made to get rates of Māori vaccination higher.
That included mobile units, and events to get people vaccinated. She said there was research on incentives being used overseas, and that would be circulated to providers.
Ardern would not talk about specific incentives, "but as a general rule, we want providers to do what works".
Henare said there was some funding to look at "bespoke incentives" to encourage young Māori to get vaccinated.
On the rollout to Pacific communities, Ardern said if the community said the Government needed to have done better, then it needed to do better.
The extra funding was to help ensure that happened among Pacific providers.
Ardern said the Government had a duty to make sure the vaccination rollout was available, but providers had flexibility to use measures they thought would work to get people to come for vaccinations.
Bloomfield said the last two weeks had resulted in a big increase overall, as well as among Pacific and Māori.
Essential workers crossing border need to get tested
Bloomfield said essential workers in Auckland, in particular, had to stay home if they were contacts or had been to a location of interest.
For essential workers crossing the boundary, he asked them to get tested in the next couple of days regardless of whether they had symptoms or were a contact.
That was part of the wider surveillance testing to ensure no cases crossed the border with those commuting workers.
He said there were now 384 applications for personal travel across the borders. About 95 per cent had been declined.
"Even at alert level 3, people should be staying at home and a tight boundary around our level 4 area is required."
He acknowledged that was distressing for some.
Ardern said the tight restrictions on who could cross the border was working well - traffic on the southern boundary has been "low and orderly".
Ardern said there were checks to ensure only essential travellers were travelling to different regions. Fines were one way to enforce it, but she hoped people would abide by the rule because of the risk of spreading Covid.
The Prime Minister emphasised the rules for level 3 were tighter this time - especially the use of masks.
She said there had been multiple reports of abuse of bus drivers and other transport operators
"There is never an excuse to lash out at our essential workers."
Aucklanders try to cross border for takeaways
New police figures show a total of 3059 vehicles passed through the five checkpoints south of Auckland yesterday between midnight and 3.30pm. Only 114 vehicles were turned away for non-essential travel.
"Examples of non-essential travel included some motorists attempting to exit Auckland to get takeaways, or to pick up items purchased online," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.
New supermarkets added as locations of interest
Just ahead of the press conference, a host of supermarkets have been added to the Ministry of Health's locations of interest page. The new list shows that a person with Covid-19 was in the community as late as two days ago - on Tuesday afternoon - with a positive case linked to the Countdown Auckland Airport supermarket from 1pm to 2pm.
Some of the supermarkets have already been mentioned on the ministry's website, but include new exposure dates.
Other supermarkets have been mentioned for the first time. They include
• Pak'nSave Mt Albert
• Pak'nSave Manukau
• Pak'nSave Massey
• Countdown Manukau Mall
• New World Papatoetoe
• Pak'nSave Westgate
• Countdown Auckland Airport
• Fresh Choice Māngere Bridge
• Fresh N Save Ōtāhuhu
Pak'nSave Manukau, at 6 Cavendish Drive, has two new exposure dates today.
A Covid positive case was there on Saturday, August 28, between 5.50pm and 6.50pm and on Monday, August 30, from 10.45am to 11.30am.
The supermarket was also visited by a positive case on Saturday, August 21, between 2pm to 3.30pm.
New World Papatoetoe - which was also already on the list - has two new exposure dates today as well.
The affected times are Tuesday, August 24, between 4pm and 4.10pm and Friday, August 20, from 11.30am to 12.30pm.
It follows Bloomfield yesterday saying close to 40 outlets would be added as locations of interest.