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A full level 4 lockdown is "not in frame" right now despite additional cases of Covid-19, all linked to the existing Auckland cluster of 17, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today.
As Cabinet meets this afternoon to decide New Zealand's ongoing Covid response, a level 4 lockdown is not in the frame right now, Hipkins told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.
"All of the evidence suggest it's still the one cluster. Obviously we release the new number at 1pm. There have been some additional cases and we will release those at 1pm today. Yes, all of the cases so far remain connected. That is very encouraging but obviously we haven't identified the point of origin.
"Level 4 is not in frame at the moment. You would need to see a number of different clusters and a number of different isolated cases before you make a decision along those lines. There is nothing like that in the frame at this point."
Hipkins said it was now compulsory for border workers to be tested, defending the Government's earlier approach and revelations only a third had been tested.
Auckland University Professor of Medicine Des Gorman rated the Government's response as "somewhere between two and three" out of 10.
"I've seen health systems manage medical emergencies worse than this but it takes some doing," Gorman told Hosking. "It's like we're living in a parallel universe."
He was particularly astounded that only a third of border workers had been tested up until this week. "I thought someone was pulling my leg."
New Zealand had now had the same experience as Australia, Vietnam and other countries whose elimination strategies had been undermined by cases through the border.
"If we are going to have a keep-it-out, stamp-it-out [approach], then we need to keep it out as much as possible, stamp it out as quickly as possible... but you can't keep reacting the way we are to clusters by plunging society back into deep freeze."
Hipkins said he had not spoken to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters who claimed on Australian television that a border breach had led to the new cluster. "There is no evidence to substantiate that claim at the moment."
Hipkins said there were rumours of positive cases all over New Zealand, and that simply was not true.
Auckland has been under level 3 restrictions and the rest of New Zealand in level 2 since midday Wednesday, following revelations of a Covid outbreak in the country's biggest city on Tuesday evening.
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The news has seen thousands of Kiwis lining up for Covid tests.
Hipkins told Hosking there would be even more tests today, following complaints and concerns from people they were waiting for hours for tests or missing out altogether as stations closed.
His comments come as the size of the new Auckland cluster yesterday grew by 13 and cases spread to the North Shore. Counting the original family, there were 17 cases in total up until the new cases announced today.
New Zealanders will find out later this afternoon whether restrictions on their freedoms will be eased, extended or tightened.
Cabinet will meet about 3pm to review the last pieces of information it needs before making a decision. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce what the Government has decided at 5.30pm.
Gorman believed a bipartisan group of politicians needed to look at the entire policy approach, without looking over their shoulder at the September 19 election.
He believed it would take 10 years for the economy to recover, now that the buffer had disappeared, leaving us vulnerable to another pandemic.
"In that context you don't play Mr Nice Guy. I'm sorry - if you work at the border, you need tested every week, end of story."
Meanwhile, a student at Glamorgan School in Torbay has tested positive, Auckland Regional Public Health said in a letter that went out to parents last night.
The child was last at school on Tuesday but is self-isolating with their family.
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ARPHS was working with the school to identify close contacts, including any classmates and staff.
Parents were being asked to keep all children at home in isolation until they receive notification from ARPHS about what to do next.
The Warehouse Group staff were also told someone who tested positive had visited the Albany and Wairau Park stores over the weekend. The click and collect sites were closed yesterday and staff were asked to stay home by management.
A student at Auckland's Manukau Institute of Technology also tested positive, it was confirmed last night, as were students at the Southern Cross Campus school and Taeaofou I Puaseisei Preschool in Mangere East.
It is unclear if the cases are among the 17 cases of community transmission already confirmed by the Ministry of Health.
The source of the outbreak is still not known but Peters claimed last night there had been a quarantine breach.
He told Australia's ABC 24 News he was given the information by a New Zealand journalist, who he said was "usually very reliable".
All the new cases are linked to the original four community transmission cases, announced on Tuesday night.
As was the case before announcing the country was coming out of alert levels 4 and 3, Ardern said the Government needs the latest information before making a decision.
She said Cabinet would need to have a better idea on, for example, whether or not there are any cases which are not linked to the Auckland cluster.
Top ministers will today receive a "significantly larger" range of tests from across the community, which will help with the final decision.
As well as this, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will give advice to Cabinet before a decision is made.
He will be briefing media on any new cases at 1pm today.
Ardern yesterday stressed what she called the "seriousness of the situation".
"As we all learnt from our first experience with Covid, once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows. We should expect that ... here." In other words: "Things will get worse before they get better," she said.
In an attempt to limit any more transmission, Bloomfield yesterday ordered that from now, all cases of Covid-19 are to be managed in a quarantine facility.
When there was last community transmission in New Zealand, those infected self-isolated at home.
"[This] shows how serious we are about limiting any risk of ongoing transmission," Bloomfield said.
Ardern had a similar sentiment. "While it is serious, it is being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way."
The new facilities have been set up specifically to handle the new cluster and have "excellent processes and resources", Bloomfield said.
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said yesterday's test results didn't reveal any cases that were not connected to the cluster, nor any cases outside of Auckland.
"This is good news so far."
Baker said that the Government was broadly doing everything it should be doing to avoid the situation in Melbourne.
"They're [the Government] responding very vigorously, without delay and in a decisive way."
As ministers today decide whether to extend Auckland's lockdown, the Government has deployed more police to the front line to manage the Covid response.
Covid-19 testing levels continue to increase — at 1pm yesterday the Ministry of Health said there had been just over 6000 on Wednesday.
More up-to-date data from Northern Regional Health Co-ordination Centre revealed last night there had been 7800 in Auckland alone.
The centre is rolling out more testing stations across the city, including one at Eden Park.
- With additional reporting from Derek Cheng