Auckland will move to alert level three for a week at 6am tomorrow morning after two new Covid-19 community cases announced this evening could not be directly linked to earlier cases, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
The rest of the country will move to level two.
A sibling of a Papatoetoe High School student, who was a casual plus contact of the recent Auckland community cases, tested positive for Covid-19.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the new case is a 21-year-old man. Preliminary test results show three household members are negative and another member - the mother - has a positive test result that indicated early infection.
Ardern said the link to the high school could provide a straightforward link, but in this case it had not since the student previously tested negative.
Genome sequencing is underway. Ardern said officials strongly assume this case will be linked to the cluster.
"However, as we all know so well, if what we cannot immediately link a case person to person, what we call an epidemiological link, that is a significant issue and one we need to act on."
She said the second cause of concern was because the person was possibly unknowingly infectious for as long as a week without isolation.
"There are a number of high risk locations involved with this case," she said, including a supermarket, a gym, and the Manukau Institute of Technology."
Given the time that has passed by for the onset of symptoms, "we may well have close contacts who are already infected".
She said Cabinet met this evening and made the decision Auckland will move to alert level 3 for seven days, while the rest of the country will go to level 2. From 6am tomorrow, the alert level changes will kick in.
Ardern said they were assuming this case had the more infectious variant of the virus.
Aucklanders are asked to stay at home, in their bubbles other than for essential movement. Those who can work from home are asked to do so. If you go outside, maintain physical distancing. Children are asked to stay home from school in Auckland, although for essential worker parents who need to be at work, they will be open.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and primary produce stories can remain open. Ardern urged people not to rush to supermarkets.
Businesses that normally operate on face-to-face basis are now asked to move to non-contact methods like click and collect or online ordering, she said.
Public venues will be closed, including playgrounds, libraries, cinemas, gyms, pools and markets. Gatherings outside people's bubbles is prohibited with the exception of groups of 10 for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Public health measures will still need to be maintained in these events.
All sports games will need to be cancelled, including tomorrow's Auckland Round the Bays.
Inter-regional travel will be restricted. Those who are vulnerable with pre-existing conditions and older people are encouraged to stay at home where possible and take extra precautions where possible.
Aucklanders are asked to wear masks when they leave their house.
"Some will ask whether we should have stayed in level 3 from the 14 February right up until this day today. That was not what the evidence required and therefore it was also not the advice we were given."
She said with more than 100,000 tests since the community case on 14 February, wastewater testing showing up negative, Papatoetoe High School mass testing and stringent contact tracing and isolating measures, it was not deemed necessary at the time to extend alert levels.
"But there is no doubt that a contributing factor to the issue we are now facing is that the guidelines and rules have not always been followed."
"We just need to hang in there," she said.
Dr Bloomfield said local health authorities were undertaking interviews to investigate how the case may have been infected.
Bloomfield encouraged people with symptoms and those who were at locations of interest to get a test, especially younger people who may put down their symptoms to other issues.
"There may be infected people from those exposure events and we need to prevent those people from going on and infecting others."
Ardern said she is confident that the person was aware of the isolation advice. "Obviously in this case, despite that communication over what was expected, that has not occurred here. We have a test though and ultimately we need that test to make sure we are not putting other people at risk."
She said she did not want to create an environment where someone who has made mistakes gets so pilloried that no one else wants to get tested.
Those required to isolate or get tested are eligible for payment by the government, she says.
She urged people to promptly act as if they're in level 3 once they hear the announcement, but they are realistic it would be more realistic for it to take effect in the morning.
She said part of the complication was that some people who were meant to be in isolation, did not follow the rules.
Bloomfield said this variant was proving to be "challenging" with unusual symptoms and spreading further through casual-plus contacts.
Papatoetoe High School was due to reopen this Monday after having to close for cleaning and contact tracing when the first student of the recent cases tested positive on 14 February.
The new case reported today developed symptoms on Tuesday 23 February, and is regarded as being potentially infectious from Sunday 21 February.
The person was tested yesterday and the result was received this afternoon.
The high school student sibling had returned three recent negative tests and is asymptomatic, the ministry said.
Public health officials are undertaking interviews to help establish how this new case was infected.
The household has five people and testing is now underway, the ministry said, with results expected this evening.
Genome sequencing is also underway and expected later tonight.
Locations of interest
A number of locations of interest, which will be available on the ministry's website, will be updated progressively from this evening.
Four have been identified so far:
- Hunter Plaza (26 February) 2.55pm - 5pm
- Burger King Highland Park (25 February) 8pm-9pm
- Your Health Pharmacy (23 February) 2.45pm - 3.50pm
- Pak n Save Manakau (21 February) 5.30pm - 6.40pm
For up-to-date information on testing locations in Auckland, visit Auckland Regional Public Health Service's website and all testing locations nationwide, visit the Healthpoint website.
The ministry is urging people to only call Healthline if they were potentially exposed.
- If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre