The new Covid-19 cases in New Zealand are two Kiwi women who flew in from the United Kingdom and travelled to Wellington to grieve the sudden passing of their parent, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says.
They were allowed to leave their managed isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland without being tested on the condition that they were tested in Wellington, which returned positive results.
One of the woman had mild symptoms before being tested, but it was put down to a pre-existing condition.
Bloomfield said their conditions might have been picked up if the daily health check in managed isolation had been done properly, including asking them about every individual Covid-19 symptom.
"My understanding is the person who had the symptoms was asked, 'Are you okay?' ... The protocol is to go through each individual symptom.
"It may well have been that that would have elicited specific symptoms that may have led to suspicion."
Bloomfield said they had only been in contact with one family member in Wellington, who had also been staying at home.
He wasn't nervous that there would be a sudden outbreak because the close contacts - including people at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland and on the Brisbane flight - were all being traced.
Women's movements in New Zealand
Bloomfield said it was possible the women picked up the infection in the UK, in airports or on their flights.
The women, one in her 30s and one in her 40s, arrived in New Zealand together on June 7 on a flight from the UK via Doha and Brisbane.
They were permitted on compassionate grounds to leave managed isolation to travel to Wellington via private vehicle, which a relative dropped at their hotel, on June 13.
Bloomfield said they did not need to stop for petrol and they did not use any public facilities, suggesting they had gone to the toilet on the side of the road.
"There is a lot of empty road side between here [Wellington] and Auckland."
They were both tested at a Wellington community assessment centre yesterday as part of their exemption plan.
Local public health staff are now testing and isolating all others who may be at risk of exposure, including the one family member that the women met in Wellington.
Staff at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland, where they women had been staying, will be stood down and tested.
Footage of the women moving through Auckland Airport was also being reviewed. Any staff at the border who are considered possible close contacts will also be stood down and tested.
Public Health staff have been in contact with their counterparts in Australia to check on passengers on the same flights as the women.
Bloomfield did not know how many close contacts there were at this stage.
Both women are now self-isolating with their family member in the Wellington region, in a separate place on the property.
"They've had no other contact with anybody else."
The women had been careful not to put anyone at risk and had taken face masks for their journey, Bloomfield said.
"In this instance, the women did everything that was asked of them."
Tight security remains at Auckland hotel
The two women had been in managed isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie hotel before driving to Wellington.
The Auckland hotel remains completely cordoned off today, with police, Navy personnel and security guards guarding the closed gates.
Ken Toyota, owner of the neighbouring cafe Pronto, said the area had quietened down significantly since the news of the two new cases broke earlier today.
"There's usually a lot of people walking around here, but not since this afternoon," he said.
"We've done a few deliveries into the hotel. Not everyone was wearing masks like you'd expect, but there's still Perspex barriers inside."
Toyota said he had noticed precautions around the spread of Covid-19 had been loosened in the past few weeks.
Not all of those in quarantine wore masks during their daily walks, he said.
"I've heard they call the walk 'the hamster wheel', just going around and around."
Two teens flee from isolation after being let out for funeral
Bloomfield confirmed that two Hamilton teenagers were granted an exemption to attend a funeral and ran off afterwards.
They have since been located and one is in managed isolation, while the other is in an agreed community-isolation arrangement.
"It happened towards the end of last week. Both of them have been traced," Bloomfield said.
"I want to thank many people who were involved and the work done with police, local community and iwi to sort that out and reduce the risk to the wider community."
He did not know how many days there had been with their whereabouts unknown.
Women not tested before leaving isolation
The women applied for an exemption on compassionate grounds on June 12, and their parent died that night.
"I sense they may have thought they had more time, but unfortunately the relative died that night," Bloomfield said.
A negative test result was needed before someone can be released from managed isolation.
But because of the circumstances, the women's leave application was expedited and they drove to Wellington the following day.
Last week Bloomfield introduced changes to border measures, including a test on day three and on day 12 of quarantine/managed isolation.
The testing on day three had not been implemented in time for the women's managed isolation, Bloomfield said.
While compassionate exemptions were no longer available for funerals or tangis, Bloomfield said one could be granted to see a dying relative or grieve the loss of a loved one in a small group of people.
"Compassionate exemptions are only granted if a detailed plan for self-isolation, testing and health checks in the community is agreed.
"Everyone that is granted exemptions is assumed to present a risk of Covid-19 and all precautions are taken to manage that risk.
"We have great sympathy for families dealing with bereavements, although today's news underscores a recent decision to not grant exemptions to attend funerals or tangihanga."
New Zealand's total number of confirmed cases is now 1156, while the total of confirmed and probable cases is now 1506.
Yesterday there were 1527 tests, bringing the total completed to date to 312,648.
The contact-tracing system can trace several hundred cases at a time, Bloomfield said.
"Our aim here is to trace 100 per cent of people. We know exactly where they are."
He said he was not nervous that the women had infected other people.
"A new case is something we hoped we wouldn't get but it's also something we expected."
He said it wasn't surprising that people arriving at the border had tested positive, especially from the UK, where Covid-19 is not well contained.
Ardern reacts to the two cases
"There are eight million cases worldwide. We still have New Zealanders returning home," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier today when asked about the two new cases.
"What this does prove is the importance of a rigorous system at our border."
The Health Ministry said they are related to the border as a result of recent travel from the United Kingdom.
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She said New Zealand was ready for a second surge of cases, but the focus was on preventative measures.
"I've said all along, New Zealand would continue to have cases because it continues to surge around the world. We of course are well-placed to manage it, though."
She said that Bloomfield will also talk about "precautionary and rigorous testing as a result of the cases today".
National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was critical of the Ministry of Health's two hour delay in giving details about the two new cases.
"I would have thought that given their previous practice they would have been much more clear about what's happened and why and what their response to it is."
Last week Bloomfield said exemptions for people to leave quarantine or managed isolation at the border to attend a funeral or tangi would no longer be given.
That was because of the risk of an imported case of Covid-19 spreading into the community.
Today broke the streak of 24 days of no new cases.
It was also the Health Ministry's elimination day, meaning it had been 28 days since the last case of community transmission had come out of isolation.
That case was a Ministry for Primary Industries worker who tested positive at the border on April 30, and who came out of isolation on May 18.
He had been tested as part of a surveillance programme, which Bloomfield has said would continue to focus on the border.
Ardern has previously said she would not rule out the possibility of moving back up alert levels.
Every traveller who arrives into New Zealand on a flight which departs from another country must go into one of two facilities for an isolation period of 14 days.
If a traveller is symptomatic on arrival, they are placed in a quarantine facility for two weeks. If they are not symptomatic on arrival, they are placed in an approved managed isolation facility for two weeks, according to the ministry's website.
Since June 8, all travellers who arrived in the country were tested for Covid-19 at their respective facilities.
"Specific facilities are being used for a small number of travellers who are unwell when arriving in New Zealand. These people are in quarantine and are unable to leave their room," the ministry website says.
"Separate facilities are being used for travellers who are well. While in these facilities, they are able to go for a walk within the confines of the facility, but will need to limit contact with others.
"Travellers at these facilities may not leave the facility grounds for any reason unless they have express approval from health officials and are accompanied by health officials."
At the end of their two-week isolation period, travellers are able to leave the facility and travel to their final destination, given they have a suitable travel plan in place.