Two people who completed their managed isolation in the same facility and at the same time as the Northland case are now being treated as confirmed Covid-19 infections, according to the Ministry of Health.
"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", director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said in a statement this evening.
"It's too 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."
But Bloomfield said that out of an "abundance of caution" the Ministry is now responding as if these are confirmed current infections.
Bloomfield asked anyone who has visited the below locations during the time period, or anyone in Auckland with symptoms, to isolate and call Healthline to arrange a test and remain isolated until they receive their result.
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 Silverdale Jan 18, midday-12.30pm
• BBQ King Albany Jan 18, 12.30pm-3pm
• Caltex Orewa Jan 18, 1pm-1.30pm
• BBQ King Albany Jan 18, 5pm-9pm
• Hickeys Pharmacy Orewa Jan 23, 12.30pm-1.30pm
• Farmers Albany 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
"It's important the right people isolate and get tested, so we don't overwhelm testing centres," Bloomfield 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.
• A deep clean of commonly used areas
• Tighter restrictions on movement of returnees including no arrivals or departures
• Increasing hotel ventilation
• Requesting returnees who've recently left, to not fly, to stay home and have an additional test within 48 hours
• Restricting staff from working at other sites
• 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.
• Northcote Community Testing Centre
• Balmoral Community Testing Centre
• Whānau House, Waipareira Trust Henderson
• Health New Lynn
• The Whānau Ora community clinic
• Ōtara Community Testing Centre
Phil Goff's message to Aucklanders
Mayor Phil Goff is urging Aucklanders to continue scanning with the NZ Covid Tracer app and practising good hand hygiene in light of the new cases.
"I understand that this is unsettling and not how any of us wanted to start 2021," Goff said this evening.
"We had hoped to leave Covid-19 behind in 2020 but the reality is that we will be at risk from the virus for some time yet. As the gateway city for New Zealand, the chance of another outbreak was always present.
"Aucklanders, out of anyone in the country, know how to beat this virus – we have done it multiple times and we are going to do it again.
"I know this is frustrating, but I want to ask Aucklanders to do what is needed to defeat Covid-19 again.
"Scan, scan, scan. I cannot emphasise enough how much scanning needs to be ramped up. Use the app to record your movements and turn on the Bluetooth tracing function.
"Wash your hands regularly and stay home and get a test if you feel sick.
"Please remember you only need to get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been present at locations identified by the Ministry of Health.
"And remember it is still a requirement to wear masks on public transport," said Mayor Goff.
Decisions around events over the Auckland Anniversary Day long weekend will be made in the next two to three days based on advice from the Ministry of Health.
'Remain in your room'
People in managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel have been confined to their rooms till at least 1pm tomorrow.
A letter sent to returnees in the hotel tonight from Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Brigadier Jim Bliss said an ongoing investigation was underway after two weak positive tests were returned in the community.
"On advice from Health officials, I must ask you to continue to remain in your room until at least 1pm tomorrow (Thursday 28 January 2021) at which time I will reassess.
"I understand this is disruptive. I want to assure you that the team at MIQ are working alongside our health colleagues on these investigations. As a returnee, your health and safety is our priority. We have robust processes in place to respond to these kinds of events."
Bliss added most staff who worked on key dates of interest had very recent negative tests, giving him "additional assurance" there had been no transmission to staff working on those dates.
Anyone needing support with anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing were urged to speak to a counsellor.
And a major summer festival has been postponed following tonight's announcement.
The Sounds Like Summer Festival, due to take place in Omaha on Sunday, has been postponed.
Organisers say after getting advice from the Ministry of Health, it was in the best interest of everyone to postpone.
More than 15,000 people were expected to attend.
Meanwhile, Foodstuffs' head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said Auckland Regional Public Health Service advised that the two positive cases had shopped at both PAK'nSAVE Silverdale on 17 and 18 January and at New World Orewa on 25 January.
"Public Health considers the risk to team members and other shoppers to be reasonably low, however, while this is investigated further, we are taking the heightened precaution of requiring team members who were working front of house when the shoppers visited to: isolate at home, take a test and return to work only when they have returned a negative result. As you would expect, team members will be paid for the time they are unable to attend work."
"As the customers recently diagnosed with COVID-19 shopped at PAK'nSAVE Silverdale and New World Orewa up to a week ago, the stores have already cycled through their increased hygiene and sanitation protocols several times since the visits; both stores have been deep cleaned overnight and we are continuing to maintain the highest in-store cleaning and sanitisation measures. Both stores will be open tomorrow.
Perspex screens were still in place and Laird reminded customers to use the NZ COVID Tracer QR Code when they visited the supermarket.
Scramble to re-test pair
Earlier this evening the Ministry of Health revealed it was "urgently re-testing" two people, who completed managed isolation at Auckland's Pullman Hotel at the same time as the Northland community case who tested positive after being released from MIQ.
The pair were asymptomatic and had previously returned two negative tests, the ministry said.
Both were isolating at home.
The Northland community case involves a 56-year-old woman who tested positive for Covid-19 after completing managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel.
She tested negative for the virus twice during her managed isolation stay.
All of her close contacts have since tested negative.
She left MIQ on January 13, developed mild symptoms on January 15 and was tested on January 22.
The woman visited 30 locations of interest across southern Northland including retail outlets, restaurants, cafe and supermarkets before going into isolation.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed today that the infected woman was now considered "recovered" and was continuing to isolate at home.
Today's revelations follow claims from former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira this afternoon that there were two Covid-19 cases in the community in Auckland's Ōrewa.
Harawira told Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan the information was from "multiple and impeccable sources".
Harawira said he did not know why the ministry had been stonewalling media outlets seeking confirmation of the Covid cases.
Meanwhile the Ōrewa Countdown was closed for deep cleaning tonight after reports that one of the two possible new Covid-19 community cases had visited the store this afternoon.
However, in a subsequent statement, a spokesman said: "We've just been advised that our supermarket was not visited, which is great news for our team and community.
"We'd rather be safe than sorry, and it's reassuring to know that our evolving Covid response works fast and puts safety first."