New Zealand’s level 4 lockdown has been extended nationwide until 11.59pm on Tuesday after confirmation the Covid-19 outbreak has spread to Wellington.
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New Zealand’s biggest university and two more top schools have had students test positive for Covid – while the Delta outbreak has also sent TV star Hilary Barry and 1000 others into isolation after a gala awards dinner attended by another positive case.
As New Zealand starts lockdown weekend, with 28 confirmed cases in Auckland and three in Wellington, students at the University of Auckland and Auckland’s De la Salle College and McAuley High School have tested positive – and attended classes while infectious.
An email to staff last night from the University’s vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, said the student – a resident at Whitaker Block – attended classes on Monday and Tuesday this week.
The student then travelled to Wellington to be with family before testing positive, Freshwater said.
“The university is working closely with the relevant health agencies on this situation, and is following their protocols, including for contact-tracing, to support our student and to protect the wider university community,” Freshwater said.
Residents in the university’s Whitaker Block were warned about the positive case.
“We know this may cause concern and be distressing. The university will be in contact with you as soon as we have more information. In the meantime, please try and get a good night’s sleep,” a letter to residents said.
Parents and caregivers of Auckland’s De la Salle College and McAuley High School were also advised by letter of the news of the positive cases.
McAuley, in Ōtāhuhu, has roll of close to 800 and the student attended class while infectious on August 17.
De la Salle, in Māngere East, has a roll of close to 1000. One of its students also attended the school on August 17 while infectious.
“Aside from visiting a testing facility, you will need to stay at home and self-isolate in
case you become ill with Covid-19. Information about how to self-isolate is available
here. It is important to watch for symptoms of Covid-19 … while in self-
isolation. Any household members you live with will also need to self-isolate until you return a negative Day 5 test result,” the letters to parents said.
Hilary Barry isolating after awards night
Barry last week MC-ed the Mitre 10 2021 Awards ceremony at Auckland’s Spark Arena, in downtown Auckland.
One of the event’s bar workers has since tested positive for Covid-19.
Barry revealed live on Seven Sharp last night that she, like all others at the event, were being treated as close contacts, and had to be tested and self-isolate.
“Every single person at that event is considered a close contact,” Barry said.
She said she felt “fine … a box of birds”.
Barry said she arrived at TVNZ on Friday night before being told that someone at the event had since tested positive
Meanwhile, business representatives say it was the “wrong call” not to announce an almost-certain extension to the Auckland’s seven-day lockdown on Friday, saying leaving it until Monday just adds to the uncertainty already affecting the sector.
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Experts say the four-day extension to the nationwide lockdown was the right decision, and while a further extension for Auckland was “almost certain” it was understandable the Government wanted to have as much information as it could gather before making the call.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday the level-4 lockdown had been extended nationwide until 11.59pm on Tuesday, after confirmation the Covid-19 Delta outbreak had spread to Wellington.
It comes as 11 cases, including three in Wellington, were announced on Friday, taking the total reported in the community since Tuesday to 31.
The three in Wellington had travelled to Auckland on Sunday – one by plane and the others by car – after visiting a location of interest there.
The remaining eight cases were in Auckland.
Nineteen cases are now confirmed as part of the Auckland outbreak, with the remaining 12 under investigation but likely linked to the outbreak.
Auckland faces an even longer lockdown until at least late August, with the director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirming he wanted an extension.
Ardern would not directly answer questions on the matter, saying it was too soon to say what this outbreak would mean in the long term for Auckland.
However, Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said that was “the wrong decision”.
“When the lockdown was first announced, with the wage subsidy and resurgence support, that created certainty.
“Now with all the advice saying cases are likely to increase to 100-120, everybody has a sense we are in this for longer than seven days, and so I think today was the day to announce that.
“They’ve taken that certainty and created uncertainty. Businesses cannot operate in an environment of uncertainty.”
Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said uncertainty also heavily impacted their sector, with issues like putting in food orders and staffing impossible without knowing in advance when they could operate.
“It would have been good to know if it was going to be extended. Uncertainty is the biggest challenge we face.”
Come Monday’s decisions, White said they were hoping for a regional approach with parts of the country deemed safe taken out of lockdown. They were also hoping, when possible, for a more nuanced approach than simply moving to level 3.
“At level 3 it is almost the same as level 4 for hospitality. We are hoping they might look at a level 2.5 where most venues can operate, with things like mask use and QR scanning in force.”
Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said while they were looking for certainty he appreciated the difficulty given a lack of information.
If the evidence supported it, a regional approach would be the preferred option for coming out of lockdown, he said.
Ardern said she knew everyone was looking for certainty, but it was “too soon to say” if the lockdowns would be extended from Tuesday.
While a link to the border with the Auckland cluster had been found, they were still waiting on a large number of tests to be returned to know the extent of the outbreak.
“We do know we are dealing with an outbreak that is not isolated to Auckland, with cases in Wellington,” she said.
The infectious period of the virus still stretched back to before lockdown was imposed.
Ardern said extending the nationwide lockdown until Tuesday gave officials more time to assess the situation and be in a better position to make decisions going forward.
It was “likely” Auckland would need more time, but she said she could not say anything more ahead of Monday.
On the advice given by Bloomfield, Ardern said there was “zero difference” between him suggesting Auckland needed a longer lockdown and what she had said in the press conference.
Both National Party leader Judith Collins and Act Party leader David Seymour supported the extension of the level 4 lockdown, but said the extension showed up failures in the country’s Covid response, particularly vaccinations.
“We obviously support the decision at this stage,” Collins said.
Collins said the Government had promised to be “first in the queue” for vaccinations, but this had clearly not come to pass, leaving the country vulnerable.
Seymour said the country needed to be swiftly vaccinated.
“It was folly to say we don’t need vaccination because we don’t have Covid – that’s illogical because you get vaccinated to stop Covid in the future,” Seymour said.
Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said given the number of cases, thousands of contacts and more than 150 places of interest, it was “very likely” Auckland’s seven-day lockdown would need to be extended.
“That said it makes sense to wait for more information before making a final decision, rather than needing to change your mind.”
It was reassuring a link had been found to the border, and that the Wellington cases were linked to the Auckland outbreak, he said.
The “best case scenario” come Monday’s decision would be contact tracers had got to the edge of what they believed to be the cluster.
However, it likely would not be until the middle of next week before they would see what effect the lockdown was having on case numbers, Plank said.
Meanwhile, Friday proved to be another huge day of testing in Auckland, coming after more than 24,000 swabs were taken on Thursday. Nationally 27,899 tests were processed across New Zealand.
The huge demand for testing with the places of interest and close contact numbers swelling has seen wait times of several hours in places.
Testing pressures were expected to continue and grow across the country as more contacts were identified and with cases in Wellington and contacts in the South Island.
One of those included thousands of attendees at the Mitre 10 2021 Awards ceremony at Spark Arena in downtown Auckland last week being told they were close contacts after a bar worker tested positive for Covid-19.
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