New Zealanders will be in a summer rehearsal this long weekend as many flock to beaches and holiday getaways amid an intense campaign by health authorities to encourage use of the Covid-19 tracer app.
The Labour Day weekend precursor to the summer weather comes amid heightened anxiety about the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the community - an outbreak being referred to as the "marine engineer cluster".
Yesterday, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there would be an intensive push during the next 72 hours to encourage New Zealanders to use the app.
"The more we scan, the safer we'll be," Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield's comments reflected the lax attitude of some after it emerged that many patrons at The Malt pub in Auckland visited by a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 did not sign in. It followed warnings from health experts about Kiwis' complacency when the country moved to alert level 1.
Malt staff test negative
Greenhithe's The Malt closed for two weeks after being alerted to the visit by health authorities.
The pub's owner, Kevin McVicar, said in a post to Facebook that all staff deemed close contacts had tested negative for Covid-19. The group would also be having a second test, he said.
Covid Tracer App glitch
Bloomfield's message came after about 200 app users contacted the Ministry of Health after an Android update left some users unable to scan the NZ Covid Tracer QR codes.
Shayne Blake told the Herald his app stopped working when an update was pushed out on October 13. He immediately contacted the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and was told it was due to an update.
"I'd love to do what Dr Bloomfield wants us to do and use the app ... I wonder how many other phone models were affected, and how many people as a consequence can't use the app?"
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said OnePlus, Redmi, Oppo and Xiaomi phones were affected but users could still add manual diary entries.
A fix is expected to be released for all Android users "shortly" after testing which is underway.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said there would be no enforcement of the plea to sign in at venues visited because it was too resource-intensive, though that could change.
Bloomfield repeated his stark warning from Thursday that this long weekend was a good "rehearsal" for the summer break where New Zealanders could get into good habits to keep themselves and others safe.
"We can't stress enough that if app usage is low, our contact tracers might not get a head-start on breaking any chain of transmission, which means the virus will have more time to spread.
"The faster we respond, the faster we stop it. Time is our friend here."
If not using the app, people should use the written sign-in sheets that businesses should have available, and the Covid Tracer booklet.
New Zealanders' beloved summer holidays could be at risk if Kiwis were not diligent around Covid-19 precautions this three-day weekend, Bloomfield said.
We should act like we're in a "level 1 plus", Bloomfield said. He was "strongly urging" masks on public transport and flights, and recommended maintaining social distancing.
He said face coverings and more stringent use of the Covid Tracer app could help avoid a shift in alert levels.
The message to anybody feeling unwell or showing symptoms was to avoid a trip to the beach, stay away from shopping malls and miss out on brunch at your local cafe.
The Ministry of Health said testing was available free to anyone who needed it around the country and there were now seven testing stations set up in Auckland.
Hipkins said it was imperative people get tested quickly.
The marine engineer cluster outbreak began after a 27-year-old New Zealand engineer caught the virus while working on the Sofrana Surville ship last week and testing positive on Saturday.
Two fellow port workers and a household contact have since also tested positive, prompting the plea for caution this weekend. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 66.
The warmer temperatures for the weekend are set to entice city dwellers to the coast.
Police and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency were also giving their own warnings this week, asking New Zealanders to plan ahead, slow down, and buckle up for a safe Labour Day long weekend.
Waka Kotahi safety, health and environment general manager Greg Lazzaro said many roads around the country were likely to be very busy during the long weekend, and the agency was anticipating high volumes of traffic.
"Congestion and some delays are inevitable in peak times, but if everyone leaves plenty of time for their journey, drives to the conditions and plans ahead before leaving home, the worst of the frustrations can be eased and everyone can concentrate on arriving safely at their destination," Lazzaro said.
NZ Police Acting Superintendent Gini Welch said buckling up and driving at a safe speed were two "must-do's" for safe holiday journeys.
"This is our first long weekend since June, and with travel restricted to our own backyard there will be more traffic on our roads. More traffic means more risk, just by sheer volume.
So it's even more important to remember the safety basics like wear your seatbelt and drive to the conditions.
"You're on holiday; no need to rush."
Police want motorists to:
• Slow down and buckle up;
• Drive to the conditions;
• Keep a safe following distance;
• Be patient;
• Take regular breaks to stay alert and allow plenty of time.