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The probe into how the deadly Delta strain of Covid-19 got into the community from a MIQ facility remains a mystery and the investigation into the leak has hit a dead end.
The news comes as director general of health Ashley Bloomfield today revealed 15 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. Bloomfield also rejected suggestions Middlemore staff had made a serious error in how they handled the treatment of a patient at the hospital who later tested positive to Covid.
The managed isolation facility at the centre of the new outbreak, the Crowne Plaza, is to reopen tomorrow. The outbreak has been linked to cases from Sydney who isolated in the Auckland CBD hotel.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be another outbreak caused by a leak from a MIQ facility but said health teams did all they could to investigate and remedy any problems they discovered.
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Bloomfield backs Middlemore staff
Bloomfield did not accept staff at Middlemore had made a serious error in how they handled the treatment of a patient at the hospital who later tested positive to Covid.
He said it was not his job to second guess the clinical decisions made by staff at the time.
He wanted to wait for what an investigation into the matter found.
Bloomfield said the teams at quarantine facilities were used to dealing with people infected with Covid 19 and were quick to refer them to hospital if they needed treatment.
When Bloomfield was asked about whether there was any further risk to the community as a result of the man who entered Middlemore hospital and later tested positive to Covid, he said there was likely only a low risk.
He said the whanau of the man had been closely abiding by the level-4 restriction rules.
However, conversations were ongoing as to how the man and his family first contracted Covid and what link they had to the current outbreak in Auckland.
Bloomfield said the first step to covering the 29 staff at Middlemore Hospital who had to self-isolate as a result of the patient's Covid-19 positive test was to re-roster staff from within the hospital.
He said Middlemore had thousands of staff.
But there was also an influx of staff coming into Auckland from other district health boards across the nation and they could also be used, Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield said there was the ability to do rapid testing at some New Zealand hospitals. They can give a Covid test result within an hour or so but there was no capacity to do many tests that way.
That's why clinical assessments and asking relevant Covid questions remained important as a way of screening for patients with Covid entering hospital, Bloomfield said.
More than 80 per cent of cases not vaccinated
Hipkins confirmed 702 cases in the current outbreak have no vaccine recorded, 115 have had one dose and 38 have had two doses.
Hipkins didn't believe the vaccine rollout had peaked in terms of how many people were going to get doses each day.
He said there had been reports that demand for vaccine doses had mildly eased off in some areas but that in Auckland demand was still very high.
Hipkins said there were more than 600,000 vaccine doses in the country and around 500,000 were currently at vaccine sites.
Bloomfield encouraged people to cancel vaccine bookings if they had already been vaccinated through a walk-in centre or brought their vaccine jab forward.
That would then free up the space for someone else because people not showing up to their bookings had played a part in slowing daily vaccine numbers, Bloomfield said.
Hipkins said his team had been working very hard to reach out to all communities to get vaccinated.
He said he was confident that Māori and Pasifika health providers had the funding and resources needed to ensure they were able to reach out to their communities to ensure they were vaccinating as many people as possible.
Bloomfield said early analysis of vaccination rates showed that among older people, Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates had been higher than other communities.
It was only recently - as vaccination demand had taken off - that vaccination rates of other communities had caught up and, in some cases, passed Māori and Pasifika communities, he said.
Hipkins said discussions to reopen the transtasman bubble were a fair way off.
25 mystery cases, 37 in hospital
The number of unlinked cases is now 25, but only two of today's cases are yet to be linked.
Bloomfield said five of the 20 cases yesterday were infectious in the community.
There are 37 cases in hospital, including six in ICU or HDU.
Of just over 38,000 contacts, Bloomfield said 87 per cent had had a test.
There were 13,230 tests processed, with 8566 in Auckland.
"In many respects, that's the most important number," Bloomfield said of testing numbers in Auckland. "Please if you have symptoms, do get tested."
He said people could leave their homes in Auckland to get vaccinated, but that shouldn't involve leaving the Auckland boundary for most people, such as those who live near the boundary and would normally cross it to get vaccinated.
Hipkins reminded everyone that record-keeping was now mandatory, and using QR codes was the easiest way to do that.
The onus to do this was on businesses. "It will be hugely beneficial for us if we need to contact you."
Bloomfield said officials were not seeing new Covid cases emerge from people being at locations of interest.
Instead, most cases were now known contacts of other Covid cases, which was very encouraging.
"However, Delta is tough," he said.
Bloomfield said testing was already available to ensure all essential workers leaving Auckland for other parts of the country had had a recent test.
When asked to comment on concerns by the transport industry over the setting up of roadblocks on the edge of Auckland to check whether truck drivers had had a recent Covid test, Bloomfield said the checks were more likely to be spot checks rather than the checking of every vehicle.
Crowne Plaza probe hits dead end, MIQ to re-open
The Crowne Plaza had been subjected to extensive reviews, he said, but the exact chain of transmission from the person thought to be the index case remained unclear.
The hotel, at the centre of the latest community outbreak, will re-open as a managed isolation facility tomorrow.
"It may well still remain a mystery," Hipkins said of how the virus leaked from MIQ to the community.
There was a less than 1 per cent chance that it came via someone standing in the lobby, and there was no rationale for shutting the atrium, Hipkins said.
Work was being done to improve the atrium and the public walkway next to the exercise area, he said, which would help alleviate public concerns.
How arrivals are processed is also being looked at, but Hipkins was satisfied that the Crowne Plaza will be reopened to accept returnees tomorrow.
The risk will never be zero, but expert advice was that it was "negligible".
Hipkins said a survey since May for those who had come through MIQ found over 90 per cent said they had been treated fairly.
The Government froze the MIQ vouchers while the outbreak spread, and then said there would be a more equitable voucher system so people didn't keep losing out to others using bots or scripts.
The new system is a virtual waiting room that people can enter, and then vouchers are allocated randomly - but more details are yet to be released.
MIQ workers were "true Kiwi heroes", he said.
The booking system remained a point of frustration, he said.
The virtual lobby and more notice of when MIQ vouchers would be released would help, he said, and the Government was looking to increase MIQ capacity.
Hipkins said discussions to reopen the transtasman bubble were a fair way off.
But he said people shouldn't be preparing themselves to wait for another 12-18 months before borders opened.
He said plans had been under way for a model to allow vaccinated travellers to isolate at home and there were still plans to trial that before the end of the year.
He said health teams here are keeping a close eye on as many countries as possible to get a better idea of how to reopen once vaccination rates are higher.
That included watching the UK, which was showing that it's high vaccination rate meant there was still a large number of Covid infections but far less instances of serious illness and death.
Today the country outside Auckland emerged into Delta level 2, following 21 new cases yesterday, taking the outbreak total to 841- 824 in Auckland and 17 Wellington.
The total number of unlinked cases had fallen from 33 to 24 since yesterday, and a peak of about 60 several days ago. Just four of the new cases on Monday were potentially infectious in the community.
Covid-19 modellers now estimate the R value to be 0.4, and cases could fall enough for Auckland to move to level 3 next week as long as the current trends continue.
The Government has also confirmed that any business can apply for the wage subsidy scheme when any part of the country was in alert level 3 or 4, as long as the criteria - 40 per cent loss in revenue - was met.
This morning Hipkins said the Hardship Fund for Learners is being topped by $20 million to help tertiary students.
The fund can be used to help students who are facing any kind of hardship that is interfering with their study, such as those in financial stress, or for technology-related costs because students can no longer do face-to-face study.
"Because students' needs are diverse, this funding is flexible. Tertiary providers understand the needs of their students and will distribute it in the way that is most suitable. Learners may receive either cash grants, or goods/services purchased on their behalf," Hipkins said.
"If you are a tertiary student and need support to keep studying, please talk to your provider."
This morning Middlemore Hospital said 29 staff had been stood down for 14 days, and will undergo tests to see if they have the potentially deadly Delta variant.
Health Minister Andrew Little said it was a precautionary move, but "questions still need to be answered" over how the patient remained in the ward once displaying Covid-like symptoms.
Initial screening of the patient on his admittance included being asked if he had been at a Covid-19 location of interest. The man said they hadn't, meaning there was nothing to indicate that he was at risk of having Delta.
But the next morning he started displaying symptoms, Little said.