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A man at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland has tested positive for Covid-19 as the Government meets today to consider alert levels for the rest of New Zealand.
It's understood the positive case shared a room with three others at the Edmund Hillary Block surgical ward.
Deputy PM Grant Robertson says the Covid-positive person in Middlemore entered the hospital on an unrelated matter.
After symptoms emerged they tested positive. Other patients are also being tested as are staff who were on the ward - although all were wearing PPE, Robertson told TVNZ's Breakfast.
He didn't have detailed information but there would no doubt be more to say at the 1pm press conference this afternoon. He understood the situation was disturbing for the patients who were in the same room.
Pressed on why patients were left in the room for up to eight hours after exposure, Robertson said hospitals were very clear on infection prevention protocols and had been "brilliant" so far. But more questions would be asked.
Meanwhile, Cabinet is meeting today to look at an alert level change. Everywhere outside of Auckland is at level 3, which allows businesses to sell goods as long as there is contactless collection. Some are pushing for the likes of the South Island to move to alert level 2 - which would allow restaurants and bars to operate under restrictions.
Robertson told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that case numbers being in their 20s over the weekend had been encouraging.
Cabinet would also be looking at whether any more cases had popped up outside of Auckland and wastewater testing would be a factor, as would the quality of the border between Auckland and the rest of the country. Things were looking positive but he pointed to Victoria which had got down to a low number of cases - but was now seeing an increase, the Deputy PM said.
Anyone with a sniffle or cold, or an essential worker who might be moving across the boundary, should get tested. Targeted testing would also be done around Auckland by the Ministry of Health, he said.
Testing numbers have dropped substantially and that was a concern, especially in Auckland, Robertson said.
As for the 91-year-old who died of Covid at the weekend and whether she was vaccinated, Robertson said he wasn't sure.
New Zealand's stance is to protect frail old people and if she was unvaccinated, Robertson said it didn't threaten the process.
"Our rates of vaccination in that group are very high.
"Vaccination makes you much less likely to get Covid ... get sick ... and pass it on."
As for NZ's R rating (which measures how many people a Covid-positive person passes the virus on to someone else), Robertson says it was below 1 and likely around 0.6 and 0.8 range.
Robertson wouldn't comment about moving down alert levels.
"It has been an encouraging period of time, Mike," he told Hosking.
"Auckland appears to have started to come down on a trend ... we will announce that this afternoon."
Masks at level 2?
Infectious disease expert David Murdoch told Hosking on Newstalk ZB that he's expecting a "shift" in alert levels outside Auckland.
Asked whether masks should be enforced, Murdoch said level 2 would look different, "so masks would definitely be one option", along with the size of groups and QR scanning.
Whether Auckland was on track to move down next week, Murdoch said he was optimistic that would happen.
The word elimination trips up health experts, but either way the country was keen to "stamp" out the virus, we're on target".
As for boosters, he said there was a "huge amount of uncertainty" around that and the focus was on the first two doses out.
Other patients at Middlemore afraid
A 91-year-old patient told TVNZ the person was admitted to Middlemore at about 7pm on Saturday and was sneezing and coughing which made everyone worried.
The man said doctors came in around 10.30am today to check on the patient and he and others in the room overheard their conversation. It became clear the man had Covid symptoms, the 91-year-old told 1 News.
• LISTEN LIVE TO NEWSTALK ZB:
* 7.10am: Infectious diseases expert David Murdoch
* 7.35am: Deputy PM Grant Robertson
He said two nurses in full PPE arrived around 3.30pm and took the man away.
NZME has contacted the hospital and the Ministry of Health for confirmation.
The three patients remaining in the room are expected to be tested in several days and say they've "been locked in".
There were 20 new Covid cases in the community yesterday - showing the lockdown is slowing the outbreak, said director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
Bloomfield said 38 people were now in hospital including six in intensive care, with four requiring ventilation. There are now 801 cases in the outbreak, including 79 recoveries.
The daughter of the patient who was on the same ward as a Covid-positive patient said there has been no official word from the Counties Manukau DHB to explain what had happened.
A doctor had spoken to her yesterday afternoon to tell her more information would be provided today. Nobody was able to explain to her how it had happened.
The family was "incredibly upset" that the person was left in the room for hours while waiting for his test result, the woman, identified only as Fiona, told TVNZ's Breakfast.
Her father was in hospital on his own and had been since the "early weekend". Nobody had been able to visit him.
He is fully vaccinated, we are all fully vaccinated but we are not allowed to go and visit."
He had a mobile phone but it was difficult to communicate as patients had to wear face masks and their voices were muffled.
Her father went into hospital because he was unwell and was possibly facing surgery, Fiona said.
She was worried about the "huge number" of hospital staff, from doctors and nurses to cleaners, who could have been exposed to the patient.
Fiona said she had been told by the doctor who she spoke with yesterday afternoon that Middlemore was running out of isolation rooms.
She wanted to know why Middlemore did not have a procedure to immediately isolate the patient to avoid further risk.
Frustration over saliva testing
A Kiwi scientist who developed a cheap saliva test for Covid-19 team says she's "really quite frustrated" by the New Zealand government's inaction on saliva testing.
Dr Anne Wyllie and a team from the Yale School of Public Health led the team of researchers that developed the SalivaDirect test. She told TVNZ Breakfast saliva testing can pick up the Covid-19 virus faster than the nasal swab and is much less invasive.
At the Olympics, a person was receiving positive saliva tests for three days before their nasal swab picked up the virus, and there are many similar cases, Wyllie said.
Using saliva samples would free up healthcare workers who are currently swabbing noses - they could instead be working in hospitals or vaccinating people.
It would also free up lab capacity as there is a different supply chain involved, she said.
However, the accuracy of the saliva test can be affected by the method the laboratory uses - if they use the same methods as they would for a nasal swab it may not be as accurate.
"What we're seeing is that too many labs are taking that method that works for swabs, they're applying it to saliva and it's the method that's failing," Wyllie said.
"Other labs around the world...have shown that there are some great methods out there that can process saliva samples and give you a really good result."
But Wyllie said while researchers had been communicating through letters and Zoom calls with officials in New Zealand, trying to set the record straight, there had not been much response from the Government.
"I'm really quite frustrated," Wyllie said. "I can completely understand the hesitancy...and they have so much pressure on them to get their response right, I understand that."
But at the same time many experts around the world had been doing this work and were ready to help - but the Government did not seem to have reached out to anyone.