Auckland Mayor Phil Goff raised his concerns about a second wave of Covid-19 in the city with Government ministers three weeks ago.
"Auckland, as a gateway city to New Zealand and containing more than a third of the country's population, is particularly at high risk of being the place where Covid-19 gets out into the community," the mayor said in a letter to the Government.
The letter, to Health Minister Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods, the Minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine, outlined Goff's concerns about a potential new outbreak of Covid-19 and asked what plans the Government had in place.
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Hipkins took until Tuesday this week to respond to Goff, only hours before receiving a phone call from Prime Minister Jacinda alerting him to the latest outbreak in Auckland.
Several of Goff's concerns were not addressed by the health minister, whose response focused on the importance of councils and businesses supporting contact tracing for Covid-19 by displaying a QR code.
"I would appreciate your support in encouraging businesses to put up a Government QR code," said Hipkins.
At noon on Wednesday, the Super City of 1.6 million people was placed in level 3 lockdown after four members of a south Auckland family tested positive for Covid-19. A further 13 cases, with links to the family, were confirmed yesterday.
The outbreak has sparked chaotic scenes, long queues at testing stations and panic buying at supermarkets, while others clogged up police checkpoints as they tried to flee the city before lockdown life started.
Health officials are still working to identify the source of the latest outbreak.
Goff, in his letter, believed the biggest risk of Covid returning into the community was through people managing the quarantine and isolation of returning New Zealanders.
"I am concerned from observations made to me that in the current quarantine facilities, groups such as security staff may not be sufficiently observing social distancing. Our safety from transmission of Covid-19 is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.
"It is therefore important that we have in place contingency plans," said Goff, saying the Government and the council needed to work together to minimise a possible outbreak and have an effective response in place.
Goff was anxious to know what plans the Government had to quickly and effectively ramp up contact tracing in the event of a community outbreak, noting testing had fallen away in the absence of community transmission.
To ensure early detection of a fresh outbreak, he called for greater levels of testing and asked the Government if it was considering the use of throat swabs or saliva testing being used overseas.
In his reply, Hipkins said recent events in the Australian state of Victoria highlighted the need to be able to conduct rapid contact tracing within a short period of time, saying the Covid tracing app helped make contact tracing faster.
"Effective contact tracing will enable us to prevent any new outbreaks of Covid-19. The economic consequences of not supporting rapid contact tracing for local communities, as you already will be aware, is far more significant," Hipkins.
Goff wanted to know from Hipkins and Wood how the Prime Minister's suggestion of local lockdowns under a return to level 2, 3 or 4 would be implemented and what lessons had been learned from overseas.
He was also concerned about the economic impact and public acceptance of a second lockdown.
"Should Auckland go into lockdown again, we would anticipate a significant impact on our businesses and council itself," said Goff, saying the first lockdown had resulted in $500 million revenue hole in the council's budget.
"What level of support might be available to a city facing renewed lockdown?" he asked.
Goff said the public may be less keen on going back into lockdown and wanted to know what the Government had in mind to "promote and ensure public acceptance".
Asked about Hipkins' response to his letter, Goff said the minister recognised the risk of a community transmission outbreak and the need, in his words, "to remain vigilant and prepared for if it were to return".
Goff said ,in a further discussion with the minister, he was told that nasal swabbing remained the most reliable and accurate form of testing.
In a statement issued last night, Hipkins said his focus over recent weeks has been to ensure the country's health services are in the best possible position to quickly detect and stamp out any resurgence of Covid-19 no matter where it occurred in New Zealand.
He said the work had included improving security and clinical practices at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, removing barriers to people getting tested, and working to maintain high volumes of testing to detect outbreaks quickly and take appropriate action.
"I've also been focused on the crucial task of ensuring our contact tracing capability is robust and up to the task required of it during an outbreak," said Hipkins, saying he had recently been in touch with local government leaders and discussed matters with Goff.