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A new "additional tentacle" of Covid-19 connected to a Mt Roskill church was sparked when an asymptomatic visitor went to a bereaved family's home while Auckland was in alert level 3.

The visit may have broken level-3 rules, which require people to stay within household bubbles. "Do not invite or allow social visitors, such as friends, extended family or whanau, to enter your home," Government advice on level 3 says.

It comes amid revelations that Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church members were reluctant to get tested because they doubted the "science" of the virus, prompting a plea from Auckland Mayor Phil Goff for everyone to play their part.


And police have also warned the church leaders they may face prosecution if they gather again in breach of Government restrictions.

Officers were called to shut down the Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship prayer meeting on August 15, while Auckland was under alert level 3 and gatherings of up to 10 were only allowed for funerals and tangihanga or wedding services.

Otago University infectious diseases expert David Murdoch said today he did not know whether a return to level 1 would now be delayed as a result of the church cases.

"We will all be watching very carefully what happens over the next week or two," he told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking. "The risk is it may lengthen the tail of this outbreak. There's a lot of activity now tracing these extra cases. I don't think it necessarily changes things - it is all linked, it may just lengthen the process to get us to the satisfactory spot where we feel it is contained."

Auckland is currently at level '2.5', with the rest of New Zealand at level 2 - Cabinet will review the levels on Monday. Any confirmed changes to levels next week will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Under level 2.5, Aucklanders can travel outside the region but social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people - apart from funerals, which can have 50 people.

Yesterday director general of health Ashley Bloomfield conceded that the new "sub-cluster" - connected to the church - might extend the long tail of the outbreak by weeks.

The visit that triggered the sub-cluster was on August 27 and involved a member of the church who had been tested, but was unaware they had Covid-19 because the result was still pending.


They were part of the church's wider congregation, rather than a close contact, and were not in isolation because they did not have symptoms at the time.

Four of the yesterday's six new cases were part of the sub-cluster, which now has 22 cases - more than half of the 43 cases that make up the church group's "mini-cluster". The Auckland cluster now has 171 cases.

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Bloomfield said the sub-cluster was the "only additional tentacle" connected to the church group, but it already included a student from St Dominic's Catholic School, a Northern Express service bus driver, and "several other workplaces".

It has 108 close contacts so far, including 48 people who attended a tangi on September 2, which was allowed because Auckland had moved to level 2.5.

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All members of the church are now being asked to get re-tested, while police have been brought in to encourage ongoing co-operation.

There are now 43 cases connected to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church, including 22 cases that are part of a new 'sub-cluster'. Photo / Alex Burton
There are now 43 cases connected to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church, including 22 cases that are part of a new 'sub-cluster'. Photo / Alex Burton

Yesterday Health Minister Chris Hipkins said some in the church group had been reluctant to be tested because they "don't accept the science" behind a virus that has killed almost 900,000 people worldwide.

He added that the St Dominic's student appeared to be a previously undisclosed close contact, but Bloomfield later clarified that wasn't the case.

Bloomfield said there were a number of reasons not to get tested, including whether people believed Covid-19 is a "real thing" or how invasive the test was.

Mayor Phil Goff said he was pleased the church members now appeared to accept the need to get tested and the reasoning behind social gathering restrictions.

"It is disappointing that some, including fringe political and other groups, are still suggesting that these rules aren't necessary or, worse still, that Covid-19 is not real but some type of international conspiracy," Goff said.

"That claim is patently wrong and irresponsible. The constraints we are all living under are necessary and we all have a part to play in containing and eliminating the virus.


"If some don't, they let everyone else down."

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said some church members were reluctant to be tested because they didn't accept the science. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said some church members were reluctant to be tested because they didn't accept the science. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bloomfield said using powers under the Health Act to force people into quarantine remained an option.

He said it already provided the legal authority to move cases and their households into quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel.

Yesterday there were 74 people linked to the Auckland cluster at the Jet Park, including 58 people who tested positive and their household contacts.

There were four people in hospital with Covid-19, including two who are in ICU.

Testing numbers remained high, with 8363 tests processed on Tuesday, and of 3346 close contacts identified, only 41 are still to be reached.


National health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said today setting rules for certain suburbs should be considered.

He told Newstalk ZB's Kate Hawkesby strict rules within a suburb aren't foreign - it's how we dealt with fruit flies - but it would be more intense.

Reti is suggesting increasing the number of community healthcare workers dealing with Covid.

He says he knows local primary care workers are very busy, but he thinks "good things" will happen if there's trust between workers and the community.

He suggests bringing back recently retired staff or having nurses work on days they're not usually rostered on.

Reti is "uncertain" the further spread from the church mini-cluster could have been avoided. "Hard to say, you know, if we were all as compliant as we could be with the regulations if this would have happened."


Meanwhile Auckland Regional Public Health Service said the risk of infection from the Auckland bus driver in the sub-cluster was low.

There were 319 passengers on bus journeys with the driver, who was not symptomatic, wore a mask, and was seated at least two metres from passengers as the front seats were blocked off.

Staff who drove the bus after the driver have been asked to get a test, while CCTV footage is being viewed to see if other staff were in close contacts.

Bloomfield said all members of the St Dominic's school community are being advised about being tested because there could have been contact in the corridors.