The newly identified Covid-positive border worker was cleaning a plane from a “high-risk” country and was fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed.
The Ministry of Health has revealed three locations of interest relating to the border worker at Auckland Airport who has tested positive for Covid-19.
The person works as a cleaner at Auckland International Airport, cleaning planes that have flown internationally from countries where Covid-19 is widespread.
They tested positive yesterday, the same day the transtasman travel bubble came alive.
The three locations of interest identified so far are:
• Westfield St Luke’s Food Court, Saturday April 17, 12.15pm to 2.30pm
• Bunnings New Lynn, Saturday April 17, 2.30pm to 3.50pm
• Movenpick Dominion Rd, Saturday April 17, 5.15pm to 7.20pm
People who were at these places are considered casual contacts, and should monitor their symptoms for 14 days. If anyone develops symptoms they should stay at home, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453 and get a test.
“The ministry’s assessment, based on what we know so far, is that the risk to the public appears low.”
The worker had been fully vaccinated. Sixteen close contacts have been identified so far.
The worker had been tested weekly for Covid-19 as part of routine surveillance testing. They were tested yesterday at their workplace and that test came back as positive today. Their previous tests were all negative.
“The person is currently isolating at home while they are being interviewed by health officials and following this they will be transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility,” the Ministry said.
“Five household contacts have been tested and have returned negative results. Close contacts from the person’s workplace are being identified, isolated, and tested.
“So far, we have identified that the person has 16 close contacts. This number will likely change as further scoping of this person’s movements identifies other people they have been in close contact with.”
The person’s work at Auckland Airport is their sole employment, and their role is non-public facing.
Additional pop-up testing had been set up at Auckland Airport this afternoon in addition to the testing site already running at the airport.
“This case is a reminder that everyone in New Zealand should be using the NZ Covid Tracer app – if you have scanned in at a location with someone who has Covid-19 you will be sent a notification through the app which is the quickest and easiest way to protect your whanau.”
The worker received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine early in the vaccination campaign – in February and March.
“We know the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective, but at 95 per cent effectiveness a small number may not be protected. Breakthrough infections happen with all vaccines. This shows us how important it is that as many New Zealanders as possible take up the offer to receive the vaccine when they are offered it and are protected. The more people that are vaccinated, the more protected we will all be.”
The PCR test from this case has been sent for whole-genome sequencing. The Ministry expects to be able to provide an update on this result tomorrow. The results of the whole genome sequencing will help provide information on how the person became infected.
“A final note of thanks to this person – they, like many others at our border, have worked in an environment during this pandemic that has exposed them to the virus that we have collectively worked so hard to keep out.
“This person has done the right things – they have been regularly tested at their workplace, and we know they have been using the NZ Covid Tracer app, with Bluetooth turned on. People working at our border deserve our thanks and appreciation, and our thoughts are with this person as they recover from their infection.”
‘Not surprising’ a fully vaccinated person tested positive – expert
Auckland University vaccines expert Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said it was “not surprising” a fully-vaccinated person had contracted Covid-19.
The person had contracted the virus, but appeared well, which showed the vaccine was working as intended.
“If we keep testing people we will find people who have contracted Covid-19. Vaccines don’t make people bulletproof, which is why we want to keep up testing. It doesn’t protect every person getting the vaccine, but most people, and it will be enough to get Covid-19 under control.
“There will be those few who become infected, and fewer who then become sick and some seriously ill, but that is very rare.”
The Pfizer vaccine was found to be 91.3 effective against COVID-19, measured seven days up to six months after the second dose.
Recent studies found it to be 100 per cent effective in preventing severe disease as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 95.3 per cent effective in preventing severe disease as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We still don’t know exact numbers but we know that it has a reasonably good effect,” Petousis-Harris said. ‘There is evidence this vaccine is pretty good at preventing transmission, so it is likely good at producing herd immunity.”
Earlier today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the latest Covid-19 case was a vaccinated border worker who came into contact with planes from “high-risk” countries.
Ardern confirmed the person was fully vaccinated. They were regularly tested – the last time on the 19th.
She said the person was working in a “high-risk” area cleaning planes.
“That is a place where workers … need to be tested and vaccinated,” she said, but also “thanked”.
The person was negative on the 12th – they were picked up during routine testing, Ardern said.
She had not spoken to Australia’s PM Scott Morrison – but Chris Hipkins has talked to the Australian Health Minister about the case.
Ardern said she had always said there would be cases – “Australia accepts that”.
On the border worker, Ardern said this was an important opportunity to say the vaccine is 95 per cent effective.
That means people can still get Covid, but it won’t be as bad as it otherwise would have been.
“It is working as intended … it’s doing it’s job,” she said of the vaccine.
People who have the vaccine will still get Covid; but they won’t get as sick and die.
The vaccine reduces the likelihood of passing on the virus. “The vaccine is saving lives,” she said.
Ardern denied New Zealand has a leaky border, given the worker who has Covid was cleaning high-risk planes.
She said further contact tracing and locations of interest will be unveiled soon.
More information is still being sought, including where the plane the worker cleaned had come from.
E Tū union head of aviation Savage told RNZ it was important the public not put blame on the airport worker.
“In situations like this a lot of pressure gets put on aviation workers and airport workers … sometimes there’s a lot of blame put onto them.
“And as we know this virus is very difficult to contain, and I think the public should be reassured that there are very good health and safety regulations in place.”
It was unfortunate the highly transmissible virus could sometimes slip through even strict protocols, Savage said.