Covid 19 coronavirus Delta cases: Lockdown in place, long queues at testing centres

An unvaccinated Devonport tradesman, an Auckland City Hospital nurse and other household contacts are among five positive cases of the highly infectious Delta variant confirmed in our biggest city.

Contact tracers and ESR experts are racing to confirm the extent of community transmission after the community cases were identified yesterday, plunging the country into lockdown.

Auckland City Hospital has taken immediate action to shut down any potential spread after a fully vaccinated nurse was infected who had been working on a ward in recent days.

Long queues of cars have inundated testing stations this morning and supermarkets have reported panic buying as people stock up on essential supplies.

The Northcote testing site has lengthy queues.

Sangita Singh, 40, is a nurse at Auckland City Hospital who works on the same ward as the hospital staff member who tested positive for the virus.

She has been waiting in line for almost two and a half hours and it appears she’ll be waiting a lot longer.

Singh said she and her colleagues were told by hospital management to get tested.

“I think we are all a bit panicky,” she said.

“I’m scared for my family and those who I’ve contacted [recently].”

She said workmates were in various places in line. Some hadn’t had breakfast, she said, while others needed to use the bathroom.

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STORY CONTINUES

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed today that five community cases of Covid have now been identified – all the highly infectious Delta strain – with no obvious link to the border or MIQ.

The first, a 58-year-old Devonport man was confirmed yesterday, sending the country into a snap alert level 4 lockdown.

Ardern said the man was a “tradesperson” and, as well as 15 locations of interest already announced, seven other locations he has visited were private homes.

A co-worker of the man has since tested positive along with three close contacts of the co-worker.

One is the Auckland Hospital nurse, which has sparked emergency measures at Auckland District Health Board to contain any potential hospital outbreak to protect staff and patients.

An email sent to staff says the DHB is concerned about a “hospital outbreak” and it is taking “a number of precautions”.

Detailed contact tracing was under way and anyone who had been on Ward 65 in the past five days was asked to get a Covid test.

“Auckland City Hospital has taken immediate actions to shut down any potential spread,” the Ministry of Health said.

“Those actions include stopping unnecessary movements between wards, testing all staff and patients on the ward the health professional worked on and standing down, testing and isolating staff on the same ward.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said contact tracers were working at speed to identify the chain of transmission, where the virus came from and where it had spread to.

“The faster we do that the faster we get out of it.

“We know it’s the delta variant we’re dealing with. We don’t yet know where the linkage may be.”

Experts were now going through New Zealand and Australian genome sequencing databases in a bid to identify where the infection had originated.

Fifteen separate locations of interest had so far been confirmed after the original case travelled to Coromandel last weekend while infectious.

The locations of interest would be updated throughout the morning, and were expected to grow “quite a bit”.

Ardern and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will provide further information at today’s 1pm media conference, including latest testing results and any further cases.

On the prospect of mandatory mask use and scanning, Hipkins said there will be places people have to scan in, “and there will be wider use of masks at alert level 2 and above”.

Details would be released later today.

“My guidance to people this morning is if you’re leaving home and you’re going to be anywhere where there’s other people, wear a mask.”

“If you’re going to the supermarket wear a mask. If you’re going to the supermarket to fill up your car, wear a mask.”

Auckland and Coromandel are expected to be at alert level 4 for at least seven days, while the rest of the country will be locked down for at least three days.

Hipkins said extra testing facilities would be popping up all over the country. There were also plans for “surge testing”.

“The more tests we can do, particularly people who are showing any symptoms at all, the quicker we will be able to get on top of this.”

Hipkins said he understood the fully vaccinated Auckland Hospital nurse had not been showing any symptoms.

“It is possible we’re going to pick up cases of people who don’t show symptoms.”

Using the Covid Tracer app and getting a test if you felt unwell would help “run down this virus” and prevent it spreading in the community.

Work was also under way on the vaccine rollout to make it safe under alert level 4.

The Government was looking at drive through vaccination centres “where you can go and park up in a car park, someone will give you your vaccine, you wait for 20 minutes in your own car and then once you’ve been given the all clear you drive home again.”

Hipkins said such clinics could be set up within the next 24-48 hours.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of Aucklanders fleeing the city last night after the lockdown was announced.

Concerned residents blocked State Highway 25 at Manaia, on the Coromandel Peninsula late last night after news that the infected Devonport man and his wife had travelled to Coromandel town on Friday.

Locals were asking anyone using the road for their essential workers certificate or proof of residence to get through, sparking tense scenes.

A resident posted on a Facebook page that traffic flow towards Manaia “has slowed right down”.

“Manaia bridge is still closed and will be for as long as it takes to secure our community’s health,” the resident wrote this morning.

One of the Auckland locations of interest identified by health authorities is opening its doors today.

The Devonport pharmacy is open and staff are serving people. A staff member told the Herald they were too busy to comment.

There was no signs that the pharmacy was a location of interest.

The pharmacy told customers on a Facebook post this morning that it would be opening according to alert level 4 guidelines.

The post said four of the pharmacy’s staff members are in isolation for 14 days after the infected Devonport man visited the chemist on Monday afternoon.

“We appreciate your help, patience and understanding during short-staffed two weeks period.

“Please stay home if feeling unwell and call / email us instead.”

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking there was no known link with the Covid-positive UN worker who was recently flown to New Zealand from Fiji in a medevac transfer.

Robertson said the vaccination programme was on a “brief pause” while the Government handled the immediate impact of the new cases. Arden said vaccine centres should reopen in less than 48 hours.

Robertson said the cost of a week-long lockdown was up to $1.5 billion. “Overall this is still the best economic response.”

The Reserve Bank’s OCR announcement would still go ahead today.

Ardern told TVNZ all wastewater tests were clear except for the closest one to the Jet Park MIQ facility in Auckland. More wastewater testing would be carried out in the Coromandel.

“My very simple message: please stay at home,” the Prime Minister appealed to the nation this morning. “Stick to your bubble, stay home.”

Ardern said the Government’s hope was a high number of people being vaccinated, along with other public health measures such as contact tracing, would reduce the number of lockdowns going forward.

She was confident New Zealand could beat Covid again by using the same tools it had used before, as long as everyone adhered to the rules. Her final message: “Stay safe everyone.”

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