This afternoon 18 Cabinet ministers will pore over the test results and advice to decide the next steps in stamping out the country's second wave of Covid-19.

The key pieces of the puzzle are whether the cases are all connected, the extent of the outbreak and if the original source of the infection can be pinned down.

Cabinet will meet at 3pm to decide which parts of New Zealand need to be at which alert level - this is purposefully late in the day so they have the most current evidence possible.

The decision will be announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 5.30pm.


If Auckland is kept at alert level 3 for a longer stint and other regions shift up levels, ministers will also consider whether to implement a new financial support scheme.

Today there's been news of one confirmed and one probable case in Tokoroa and that an infected person attended a 300-strong church service in Māngere East.

An important detail is whether any new cases - including these ones - can be linked to the original South Auckland family, which would mean they're all part of the same cluster.

If the Tokoroa cases can't be traced back to a known source, this will worry health officials and Cabinet ministers as it could mean there are other chains of transmission spreading in a different part of the country.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will provide advice to Cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will provide advice to Cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell

And then there's the potential for Sunday's congregation at the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa Māngere East Puaseisei to be a super-spreader event with up to 300 people being urged to be tested after a family in attendance tested positive.

Half of the cases during the last outbreak came from clusters which were events like the Bluff wedding or St Patrick's Day party in Matamata and community hubs like Marist College or rest homes.

Today's results of the 72-hour mass-testing regime will give more clues about the spread of this outbreak.

With each positive result, the National Close Contact Service works backwards and tracks the infection as far back as they can, isolating close contacts as they go.


The results are being reported to the Government on an hourly basis, and the 1pm update by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield's is expected to include the latest information.

Yesterday, there were 6000 tests processed but well over 10,000 were swabbed. Those results will be rolled into those processed today.

Earlier this morning Health Minister Chris Hipkins said there was nothing so far to suggest a move to alert level 4 would be required - though that was before the news of the church service and Tokoroa cases.

"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.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said this morning key considerations for Cabinet will be whether the cases can be connected. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said this morning key considerations for Cabinet will be whether the cases can be connected. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"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."


That confirmed cases are being put into quarantine facilities under a new health order from Bloomfield will be of some comfort - as long as they are transported safely.

Some of the confirmed cases belong to large families so isolating infections will help limit the spread among households and accidental spread into the community.

But then there is also the original source of infection, which has been elusive so far. Pinning it down isn't essential if mass testing continues, but it would make it easier to thoroughly trace, isolate and contain all chains of transmission.

Not knowing it leaves the possibility of other chains of community transmission spreading elsewhere.

And Cabinet Minister Megan Woods said the results of genome sequencing so far showed no glaringly obvious connection between the latest strain of Covid-19 and those of people who have flown into New Zealand from overseas and tested positive to Covid-19.

Cabinet has previously taken a precautionary approach to alert levels, leaning heavily on the advice from Bloomfield, who errs on the side of caution.


And given the incubation period for Covid-19 is up to 14 days, two days of test results can only give so much insight. Cabinet could decide to extend the alert levels by a week or more to get a better handle on the true extent of the outbreak.

The Government has previously set up alert level periods in two-week timeframes due to the incubation period.

But ministers also have other factors to gauge, including the financial impact of keeping Auckland, a third of the population, under heavy restrictions and whether the team of five million has it in them to go through another harsh lockdown - having enjoyed the freedoms of alert level 1 for months.