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• The first death in the current outbreak happened yesterday, bringing the Covid death toll to 23
• Current alert level settings will remain in place until 11.59pm, September 16
• Auckland remains at level 2.5: 10-person limit on social gatherings, 50-person limit on funerals and tangi
• The rest of the country remains at level 2: 100-person limit on gatherings, masks on public transport, physical distancing

A group of five Covid-19 cases in Botany has raised enough alarm for the Government to keep Auckland at alert level 2.5 for at least two more weekends.

The rest of the country will continue to have level 2 limits on social gatherings and physical distancing requirements to mitigate the risk of travel in and out of Auckland.

It comes with the fresh reminder of how deadly Covid-19 can be, with the death yesterday of a man in his 50s at Middlemore Hospital - the first to die from this current outbreak.

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"Our thoughts are with his family and community at this time of loss and grief," director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

"[This] reinforces the importance of our shared vigilance against Covid-19, the very serious consequences the virus can carry with it, and the measures we all need to take to stop the spread, break any chain of transmission and prevent deaths."

The country's death toll from Covid-19 is now 23.

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Yesterday Cabinet decided to keep the current settings - level 2.5 for Auckland and level 2 for the rest of the country - at least until 11.59pm on Wednesday, September 16.

Cabinet will decide on the preceding Monday, September 14, whether to change the settings, which wouldn't come into effect until after the Wednesday.

Depending on how well contained the 155-strong outbreak is, at that stage Cabinet may decide to keep restrictions on Auckland and lift them for the rest of the country.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Auckland cluster, which has 153 cases, seemed to be contained "at this stage".

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield say the current outbreak appears to be contained at this stage. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield say the current outbreak appears to be contained at this stage. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But while the Botany cases have the same Covid-19 strain as the cluster, no epidemiological link has been found.

"That means there could be other [Covid-positive] people we are missing," Ardern said.

"It does give us reason to be careful, and it does give us reason to be cautious."

There are two cases in the outbreak outside the cluster and three other groups within the cluster with missing links in their transmission chains - but they are older.

The first Botany case was reported on August 28, and the most recent one was on Tuesday.

That was Auckland's second day at level 2.5, meaning their close contacts may have been moving around the city for one or two days before being told to isolate.

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The group is made up of two households and has 42 identified contacts.

"The cases have been identified and close contacts are in isolation and are being tested," Bloomfield said.

"We're hopeful it's well contained. It's just that it's appeared quite late - several weeks after the first cases in this outbreak."

Another reason for not lifting restrictions, Ardern said, was because it takes a week to see a change in the alert level settings reflected in test results.

That means the current results reveal nothing about the spread of Covid-19 from Auckland moving out of level 3.

General compliance with mask-wearing on public transport and the high uptake of the Covid Tracer app indicates Kiwis aren't suffering from alert-level fatigue, Dr Bloomfield says. Photo / Greg Bowker
General compliance with mask-wearing on public transport and the high uptake of the Covid Tracer app indicates Kiwis aren't suffering from alert-level fatigue, Dr Bloomfield says. Photo / Greg Bowker

Modelling also showed that weekends, when socialising was more common, were the "greatest period of risk", she said.

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Police will be out in force this weekend to ensure the 10-person social gathering limit is observed.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker applauded Cabinet's decision.

One concern is unidentified close contacts in Auckland, who may have spent the last week spreading Covid-19 under level 2.5's relative freedoms.

"It's far too early to know the full extent of the outbreak," Baker said.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has applauded Cabinet's decision to keep the current alert level settings until at least September 16. Photo / Supplied
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has applauded Cabinet's decision to keep the current alert level settings until at least September 16. Photo / Supplied

"It's looking manageable at this point, but 12 more days and a high volume of testing will give us a better idea of how the outbreak is behaving.

"With no more cases outside the cluster, in 12 days we could be a lot more confident that we may have eliminated it."

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Ardern said Cabinet had considered moving the South Island to level 1, but it remained risky with domestic travel allowed.

"Even if we have no more cases, there's still a chance of spread outside Auckland. If that happens, level 2 lessens the impact of any spread."

To mitigate the risk, testing stations will be set up around the country at tourism and hospitality venues.

Health officials will also be based at Auckland domestic airport to inform people about the health risks, and to remind departing Aucklanders to take level 2.5 with them.

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Yesterday there were just under 10,000 test results and only five new cases - two in managed isolation and three in the community.

The community cases were all linked to the cluster, and of 3191 identified close contacts in the outbreak, only 55 are yet to reached.

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Of the six people in hospital, two are in ICU.

Bloomfield said the high uptake of Covid Tracer app and the general compliance with mask-wearing on public transport indicated that people were not suffering from alert level-fatigue.

He said there didn't need to be a series of zero-case days before a move to level 1, and it was more about the nature of the cases, including those that were unconnected to the cluster.

Asked about the ongoing cost of the restrictions, especially on hospitality venues and events organisers, Ardern said: "Every hour in level 3 is even more expensive."