There are seven new Covid cases today and the "mini cluster" linked to an Auckland church has grown to eight cases, director of public health Caroline McElnay says.

One of today's new cases is in managed isolation who arrived in New Zealand from Turkey and tested positive on her third day in a quarantine hotel.

The other six cases are in the community and are linked to the Auckland cluster - five are household contacts and the other is a workplace contact. One is a Mt Albert Grammar student - the second pupil from that school to test positive in the last fortnight.

So far 2455 close contacts have been identified and 2404 have been contacted.

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Mt Roskill mini cluster

On the Mt Roskill church "mini cluster" there are now eight cases connected to it and all have been epidemiological links to each other - three have genomically been linked to the cluster but officials are still investigating the epidemiological link to the wider Auckland cluster.

There could be more than 600 contacts from the Mt Roskill church mini-cluster.

Auckland cluster

More than 150 people connected to the original Auckland cluster are staying in managed isolation.

Ten people are in hospital with Covid-19, including two people in intensive care.

There are 126 active contacts - 11 are in managed isolation. More than 9250 tests were processed yesterday.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said he wasn't nervous about Auckland shifting down to level 2 on Sunday because the new cases were still connected to the cluster. Modelling showed it could be a week to 10 days before the number of cases started dropping away.

Daily case numbers didn't need to hit zero before Auckland could confidently shift down alert levels - it was whether the cluster was contained.

McElnay said health officials "will feel happier" if they were able to find all the epidemiological links. Hipkins added that each new case was like another piece of the puzzle.

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Hipkins said the lines of decision making were much more clear since the report has come out and the Auckland outbreak.

Hipkins said the Pasifika community had been "incredibly helpful" and were saying "yes to the test" in much higher numbers than other populations

Rules for masks on public transport

Hipkins says wearing a face covering on public transport is the right thing to do and will help keep New Zealanders safe from Covid-19.

From Monday it will be compulsory for everyone aged 12 and over to wear a face covering on public transport and planes under Alert Level 2 and above.

"New Zealand has had real success in taking collective action to contain and stamp out Covid-19 because we've worked as a team," Hipkins said.

"I know this is big change and will take some getting used to but it is a small thing we can all do that helps us get back to the freedoms of Level 1.

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"The advice from health officials is clear – the use of face coverings can reduce the risk of people spreading Covid-19, particularly where it is hard to maintain physical distance from others. Masks and face coverings do not replace physical distancing – they complement other public health measures.

"We want to make this as easy as possible, so any form of face covering will do. If you don't have a mask you can use a scarf or bandana," he said.

"It will take time for people to adapt. Not everyone will have a face covering ready for the Monday morning commute but pretty quickly we will see face coverings become commonplace on public transport," Hipkins said.

Face coverings should be worn on public transport and aircraft. That includes trains, buses, and ferries.

They don't need to be worn:

• By children under 12

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• On school buses

• On charter or group tours

• On interisland ferries

• On private flights

• By private contractors of air services such as top-dressers

Face coverings also do not need to be worn by:

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• Passengers of small passenger vehicles, such as taxis and uber. But drivers will be required to wear masks.

• People with a disability or physical or mental health condition that makes covering their face unsuitable do not have to wear face coverings also.

• There will be other times when it is not required – such as in an emergency, if unsafe, if people need to prove their identity or to communicate with someone who is deaf, or if required by law.

Not wearing a face covering on public transport will become an offence, punishable by a $300 infringement notice or a fine of up to a $1000 imposed by the courts. Enforcement of the rules will be "light touch" - starting with engagement, encouragement and education.

Hipkins said the fines for not wearing a mask was "very similar to wearing a seatbelt". There wouldn't be police officers waiting at every bus stop.

Hipkins said because we don't have a mask-wearing culture in New Zealand it will take some time to get used to and suggested wearing one should become something like "buckling up" when you get into a car.

Drivers are not obliged to refuse entry to those not wearing masks but will be encouraged to, where comfortable, ask passengers to wear one.

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Hipkins said the advice on Ubers and taxis was the public health gains were minor compared to the impact on those companies and it would be hard to enforce.

Contact tracing report

A report on the progress of New Zealand's contact tracing systems says the "foundations are in place" but there remains work to do.

Sir Brian Roche led the Contact Tracing Assurance Committee report and said: "The contact tracing system is core to our level of preparedness.

"Its resourcing, leadership and ability to access high quality, accurate information with respect to the movements and contacts of individual members of the public is an ongoing challenge which must continue to be addressed," Roche said in a letter to Health Minister Chris Hipkins.

The committee was tasked with reviewing progress against the recommendations of the earlier Ayesha Verrall report.

An interim report was presented to the Ministry of Health with specific recommendations on June 12 then a final report was presented on July 16.

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That found "considerable progress has been made" by the Ministry of Health to the implementation of the Verrall Report.

"New Zealand is in an increasingly strong position as a result of that effort. The Ministry is to be commended, given the multiple pressures the staff have been under."

Further optimisation was now the goal, it said.

In the view of the Committee there is an urgent need to focus on the following areas:

• Scenario planning and stress-testing of the system along with a full risk register.

• Clarity of accountabilities and decision rights within the three core interventions around border controls, testing and contact tracing require ongoing work.

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• The role of technology to support contract tracing is a fundamental enabler of a high quality and responsive system.

• Fit for purpose project structure and response is a critical success factor.

• A very active cross-Government approach.

• A whole of system view.

The Ministry of Health had planned to stress-test the contact tracing system in August but the Auckland outbreak put it off and will be re-visited once the current response has been completed and reviewed.

Performance indicators for contact tracing from August 11, when the first case in the outbreak was notified, to August 21.

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• 39 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts were isolated within 96 hours from time of exposure

• 37 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts were isolated within 96 hours of case's first symptoms

• 71 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts were isolated within 72 hours of test sample taken

• 48 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of cases were tested within 48 hours of first symptoms

• 74 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of positive cases were returned within 24 hours of testing

• 98 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of cases were interviewed within 24 hours of test result

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• 84 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts were isolated within 24 hours of being identified

• 85.9 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts traced within 48 hours

• 0.8 per cent (target is under 20 per cent) of close contacts with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 at the time of tracing

• 73 per cent (target is 80 per cent) of close contacts were isolated with 48 hours of a positive result.

The last measure is noted by the Ministry of Health as a key indicator, and on many days over the period of the outbreak it was above the 80 per cent target.

"The overall result for the period is affected by a relatively small number of contacts that are identified late due to the delayed identification of some exposure events."

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Further uptake of the Covid Tracer app would improve performance for this measure, the ministry said.

The indicators that measure time from the first symptoms are skewed because the cases weren't diagnosed until many days after the onset of symptoms.

And others are less relevant because of cases in managed isolation or quarantine are placed there on arrival and not tested until day three and/or day 12.

Hipkins said 2368 or 2422 close contacts had been moved into isolation.

"That's a high strike rate, and while the figures vary day to day, the teams are consistently performing around the benchmark of 80 per cent of close contacts identified and contacted in 48 hours."

Hipkins said some of the key areas identified for improvement are beyond the scope of the contact tracing teams alone and are being considered separately.

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"These are: clarity of accountabilities and decision rights, a fit for purpose project structure, a very active cross-Government approach, and a whole of system view.

"Overall, however, I am very encouraged by the way our contact tracing processes are working," Hipkins said.

Eight people associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past two to three days.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday urged anyone who was at the services held at the church on Stoddard Rd on August 8, 9 and 11 and a wedding on August 7 to isolate and seek a test.

The cases are yet to be epidemiologicaly linked to the existing South Auckland cluster, but health officials were confident they would be connected.

Bloomfield yesterday: "They're like a mini-cluster at the moment".

Auckland University microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles told RNZ that genome sequencing would be crucial to scientifically prove whether it was in fact linked to the cluster.

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"My concern is that if we can't find the link, that suggests there might be some other transmission chains and the question is whether we stopped those or whether once we move down to level 2 they'll continue. That's why all the testing that's happening at the moment is really, really important.

"The more sort of loose ends we see, the more concerned I am about moving out of level 3 here in Auckland."

Auckland is due to move out of level 3 and into level 2 at midnight on Sunday, but with restrictions to 10 people on gatherings. The rest of the country will remain at level 2 with a 100-person gathering limit.

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"They're like a mini-cluster at the moment," Bloomfield said yesterday.

McElnay will reveal the latest testing rates, with the Government aiming for 10,000 a day.

Yesterday there were five new cases of Covid-19 - three in the community and two contained in managed isolation.

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The cluster was at 108 cases, and there were nine people in hospital with Covid-19, including three in a critical condition.

Money for vaccine

This morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced hundreds of millions of dollars to help secure access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available.

The specific amount, from the Government's Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund, cannot be disclosed due to commercial sensitivity - but it is not part of the $14 billion still in reserve.

But a vaccine might be as long as two years away, according to Professor Graham Le Gros, programme director of funding recipient Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo, a partnership between the Malaghan Institute, Otago University and Victoria University.

Le Gros said he didn't want to give people false hope about when a vaccine might be ready.

Ardern visited the Malaghan Institute in Wellington this morning with Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods.

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Woods said some of the funding was to ensure New Zealand wasn't at the back of the vaccine queue, including enabling manufacturing in New Zealand on a large scale.

"Otherwise we simply would be left out."

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Part of the Government funding - $3 million - is for Biocell to upgrade its facilities so it could make one hundred million doses.

Ardern said the strategy was about making sure not only New Zealand but also Pacific countries wouldn't miss out.

"Assessments will be made around with those countries with high needs, and relative to others New Zealand has performed incredibly well in protecting its population from Covid-19.

"We don't want that to be a reason where we're not able to access vaccination in a timely way.

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"The hundreds of millions we've put into this strategy I think means we can be optimistic around where New Zealand is positioned."