The new cases come after students and staff at Avondale College were told they would have to quarantine for two weeks after a teacher was identified as having Covid-19 earlier in the week.
A student at the NZ School of Tourism has also been confirmed as having Covid-19. It is unclear whether the student is one of the already announced cases or additional.
The school was unaware of when the student had become infected, the email said. The student had not been on campus since August 10.
On August 9 and 10, they had attended a class at the school’s Queen St site from 9am-12pm.
Meanwhile, SkyCity chief executive Michael Ahearne said the company had been busy getting in touch with all staff members working at the casino at the same time a positive case visited over the weekend.
He said staff were feeling “anxious” about the situation.
“The period in question was Saturday morning…and approximately 1000 customers were in that area,” he told TVNZ.
Ahearne said part of the process they are dealing with is giving “detailed information” to public health officials – including processing CCTV footage.
Michael Baker told The AM Show it was vital that essential workers with front-facing roles such as police were vaccinated describing it as a loophole in the system. “This is one of the loopholes in that at least 10 per cent of the population are in this essential workforce, they should be vaccinated and they should be wearing masks.”
The Government will today decide whether to extend the national lockdown as a key “piece of the puzzle” fell into place yesterday, crucially linking the current cluster to a border case.
This means officials can more easily encircle the outbreak, but experts say as the number of places of interest swells past 120 – including some with “super-spreader” potential – and the extra threat of Delta, extensions to the lockdowns are likely.
As of Thursday there were 21 Delta Covid cases in Auckland, including two in hospital.
Twelve have been confirmed as part of the same Auckland cluster. The Herald understands several are relatives.
A further eight are being investigated and are expected to be part of the cluster.
The other – an air crew member – is not expected to be linked because it is a border-related case.
Two people were taken to North Shore Hospital overnight on Wednesday. One had worsening symptoms and the other had underlying conditions. One is in their 20s and one in their 40s.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said five new cases were a family group, and, although they weren’t confirmed as part of the cluster, at first glance there was a connection to Avondale College. Interviews were ongoing.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said based on genomic testing, the current cases were a close match with a returnee from Sydney, who arrived on a managed red zone flight on August 7.
They returned a positive result on August 9 and were transferred from the Crowne Plaza to the Jet Park on that same day. They were taken to Middlemore Hospital on August 16.
Additional information could emerge, but “the balance” of evidence gave enough confidence to begin searching for the missing link to the community cases, Ardern said.
Middlemore Hospital was not a line of investigation at this stage because of the timeframe but staff at the other facilities would be retested. Of those staff, 403 were fully vaccinated and the remaining five had received one dose.
Bloomfield said with the likely border link their modelling suggested cases could reach around 50.
There were 362 people categorised as close contacts of positive cases, but by the end of yesterday “well over 1000” people would have been contacted, Bloomfield said.
The Cabinet will meet at 1pm and announce at 3pm whether to extend the three-day lockdown due to end at midnight for most of the country and any variations to the seven-day lockdown for Auckland and Coromandel.
Ardern said the decision would be based around a range of factors including case numbers, the spread and any new information around the connection to the border.
She urged those around the country, particularly in the South Island, to get tested so they could stamp out the possibility of any other outbreaks.
Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said the discovery of a possible link to the border was good news.
“If it holds up under further investigation then the later arrival date means we are looking at a much shorter chain of transmission and fewer cases than the early results suggested.”
Finding the link meant there could have been fewer cases circulating in the community, however the speed the cluster is growing at means they still estimate there could be about 100 cases.
Based on this factor and the growing list of locations of interest a lockdown extension was likely, he said.
“It is still a fast-moving cluster and there are a lot of locations.”
More than 120 have been listed so far, including Avondale College, SkyCity Casino, several bars and nightclubs and the Auckland Central Church of Christ.
“[The border link] does decrease the worry and could enable us to contain the outbreak with contact tracing. But I wouldn’t rule out an extension, as it is Delta, and it will come back to bite us if we are not cautious.”
Fellow modeller Professor Michael Plank said the fact that the person arrived from Sydney on August 7 meant the virus probably wasn’t in the community for more than 10 days before it was detected.
“So that’s probably the sort of least worst scenario we could have hoped for.”
But Plank said location was another factor.
“We’ve just learned there’s been about 2000 close contacts across the SkyCity Casino, so there’s still the potential that we could have had a number of big super-spreading events,” Plank said.
“And that’s going to be the next big thing to look out for as the results of testing those close contacts come in.”
Plank said alert level 4 will have stopped the virus for now.
“Although we’re seeing these huge numbers of contacts at the moment, going forward, we should see less of that.”
Some of the big questions remaining, he added, were how many close contacts would test positive, which would help determine how serious the outbreak was, and just how the lockdown would affect transmission.
Ardern said essential workers, including 50,000 customer-facing supermarket workers, would now be prioritised for vaccinations.
Frontline police have also called for emergency vaccinations after it emerged just 40 per cent of 10,000 staff across the country were vaccinated.
Ardern also announced the Cabinet had agreed to make the Pfizer vaccine available for 12 to 15-year-olds, of whom there are an estimated 265,000.
It was “an important next step” and there were more than enough vaccine doses for everyone, Ardern said.
Health leaders have welcomed the news, GP and Māori health expert Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen saying it was particularly crucial for protecting Māori and Pasifika populations because of the younger age profile and higher vulnerability.
Jansen and other Māori health leaders, including Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, have called on the Government to prioritise Māori and Pasifika of all ages in light of the recent outbreak.
“We have frighteningly low vaccination rates and much of that is due to the Government’s failure to understand and implement a vaccination programme that best meets the Māori and Pasifika population profiles,” co-leader of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā Professor Papaarangi Reid said.
Testing times at Covid stations
Auckland University vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris told the Mike Hosking Breakfast there was demand for more testing stations, but it was “pretty hard” to get them set up quickly.
She said there had been a surge in people wanting vaccines. “I think we all want ours as fast as possible… it’s going to be a challenge but we’ve got to do it,” she said. “People are pretty keen to get vaccinated.”
She said parents would be keen to get children and babies vaccinated.
“They’re part of our community, an important part, and they’ve kind of been neglected,” she said.
Petousis-Harris said we could not take our eyes off the ball, we “have to keep working at it”.
Once vaccine rates were up, she believed NZ could move forward – but Covid may be here to stay. “We have to accept the virus is going to be part of our lives, just not a dominant part,” she said.