The visit of possibly Covid-19 infected passengers from cruise ship Ruby Princess in Napier has exposed one of the major faults of the prevention system, claims the boss of the bus company which tours most of the visitors in Hawke's Bay.

Katie Nimon, the general manager of Nimon's, was speaking on Thursday after a latest Covid-19 details linked a Hawke's Bay case with the visit of the liner to Napier on March 15, the last stop before the cruise was called off early and the Ruby Princess headed for Sydney, where it disembarked 2647 passengers.

One of 133 cases now confirmed among those on the cruise, averaging about 1-in-40 of those aboard, and climbing, the Hawke's Bay case creates another cluster people to be tested and a possible outbreak.

It was also among 78 new cases of the virus up to 9.30am on Thursday, revealed in the daily-early-afternoon briefing by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, and increasing the total to 283 in the four weeks since the first was disclosed on February 28.

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Nimon said the company at the time the Ruby Princess berthed, after an overnight voyage from Wellington, had no idea that Covid-19 was suspected to have infected passengers on board.

It has since been revealed that on the previous day five people aboard were tested in Wellington for Covid-19 after showing flu-like symptoms, but the results came back negative.

The ship was allowed into Napier the next morning, without further checking of passengers, and 25 Nimon drivers were then involved in shuttling more than 1000 people from the berth at the Port of Napier to the city, and up to 800 then on visits throughout the Napier-Hastings area.

Nimon said she learned that swabbing during the voyage revealed three passengers and one crew member with the coronavirus Covid-19 only after the ship arrived in Sydney on March 19.

Many of the company's drivers were over 70, and returned afterwards to driving school buses carrying thousands of students throughout Napier and Hastings.

"None of our drivers would have turned up for work if they knew there was a risk," she said, adding it was a "major, major" failure that the company hadn't been informed earlier.

Since that time, drivers had been transporting thousands of school students daily.
All of the drivers were stood-down for self-isolation as soon as the situation was revealed last Friday.

She said she had asked at the time if the drivers should all be tested but was told only if they showed symptoms.

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"Now of course we know there are many more than just three cases," she said. "If anyone knew about the illness and let the boat still come to Napier it's really poor form."

Her comments come on the same day Hawke's Bay had three newly confirmed cases of Covid-19 and one of them could be related to community transmission.

The latest three cases take the total Covid-19 cases in Hawke's Bay to six.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the Ruby Princess was being treated as a potential viral cluster when people on the ship had gone to a winery.

He said a person in Hawke's Bay had become infected with Covid-19 after coming into contact with a positive case on the Ruby Princess - but that had not been a close contact.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board's Medical Officer of Health, Dr Rachel Eyre said two of the three cases were returned from overseas travel and these people were recovering well and had been in immediate isolation since returning from overseas.

Flight information is available here: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-current-cases

The third case was not linked to overseas travel but did have a connection to the Ruby Princess.

 The Ruby Princess visited Napier on March 15, before cruise ships were banned. Photo / Patrick O'Sullivan
The Ruby Princess visited Napier on March 15, before cruise ships were banned. Photo / Patrick O'Sullivan

Dr Eyre said anyone who had Covid-19 symptoms, came into close contact for 15 minutes or longer with passengers from the ship and was now symptomatic, should call their GP.

If someone was symptomatic and in isolation with others they should further distance themselves and have as little contact as possible with anyone else in their household, not share crockery and be vigilant regarding cleaning and hand washing.

While this case was still being investigated and Hawke's Bay DHB's Public Health team and the National Contact Tracing Service were following this up, it was known that places visited by the confirmed case while symptomatic were:

Gladys Mary Care Home, Tamatea, March 17-20

Hohepa, Clive, March 18

Harvey Norman, Hastings, March 19, 10am

Cornucopia, Hastings,

Weleda, Havelock North, March 19

Te Mata Bakery, March 19

Mission Winery, March 19

Dr Eyre said while the chance of infection being passed on while the person was visiting shops and wineries was low, anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 should call their GP.

Close contacts from these locations would already have or will shortly be contacted by members of the Public Health team or National Contact Tracing Service, if there was a greater risk of infection. Now everyone was in isolation, it would help prevent wider spread, Dr Eyre said.

In relation to the Gladys Mary Care Home, the probable case was from the rest home's dementia community.

A statement from Carolyn Cooper, the managing director of Bupa Villages, said the resident was a member of a 14-person community who live in close proximity.

"To ensure the safety of our residents and staff, the 14-person community has been placed into immediate isolation. Additional infection prevention control measures were immediately put in place, including additional restrictions, equipment and hygiene measures," she said.

The home was closed to all visitors.

Dr Eyre said this reinforced how important the rules of self-isolation were. If we can break the chain we will help prevent the virus from spreading any further.

Self-isolation means staying at home – break the chain and help save lives

For more information go to https://covid19.govt.nz/government-actions/covid-19-alert-level/

The Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group now has extraordinary powers to coordinate the delivery of a swift and effective response across the region following the New Zealand Government's declaration of a national state of emergency.

The government has moved to the next phase of alert level four in response to confirmed cases of community transmission of the Covid-19 virus and the country is now in lockdown.

Group Controller Ian Macdonald said the national state of emergency declaration is a critical part of the country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and allowed the group to rapidly respond to the needs of the Hawke's Bay community.

"We are co-ordinating our response in close partnership with the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, Police, Fire and Emergency NZ, St John Ambulance, local councils, partner agencies, utility operators, and welfare organisations, to identify people who need urgent support and provisions.

"We are here to provide a safety net for those people in vulnerable situations and whose welfare is severely affected by the national lockdown, closure of non-essential businesses, schools, and workplaces.

"We are advanced in our planning and implementation of coordinating a rapid response plan and providing welfare support for people who are struggling to access essential services, such as people living in remote communities.

"We are working hard to deliver an effective response, but we do ask people to be patient, as we respond in what is unprecedented circumstances. We are committed and focused on delivering the best outcomes for our most vulnerable."

Go to https://covid19.govt.nz for everything you need to know about Covid-19 in one place, or if you're not sure who to contact for help, call the free government helpline on 0800 779 997.

For help with self-isolation: https://covid19.govt.nz/help-and-advice/for-everyone/self-isolation-advice/

For support with grief, anxiety or mental wellbeing you can call or text 1737, free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to talk with a trained counsellor.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

For financial support: https://covid19.govt.nz/government-actions/financial-support