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'Light at the end of the tunnel': no new Covid cases in Auckland for second day

Elle Hunt in Wellington
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

New Zealand’s government has said it is still too early to make a decision on extending Auckland’s lockdown, despite the city recording no new community cases of coronavirus for a second consecutive day.

More than 16,000 tests were processed on Tuesday, returning no positive results, three days into a week of level-three restrictions in the nation’s biggest city.

The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, had earlier said that this would be a pivotal point in signalling whether there had been further transmission from the February Auckland cluster.

Related: New Zealand urged 'don't let virus divide you' as Covid frustration builds

Appearing alongside Bloomfield at the Wednesday afternoon press briefing, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said zero community cases for the second consecutive day was “good news”, but warned that contact testing was still ongoing.

“I think we’re still in the critical period … That work is still underway. There are still some test results still to come through for people who we really want to see the test results for, before we can breathe any sigh of relief – so we’re not quite there yet.”

A decision on whether to lift or extend restrictions on Auckland on Sunday would be made with up-to-date information closer to the time, said Hipkins.

Bloomfield said the close and casual contacts of Cases M and N had been successfully contacted; the outstanding results were due to the timing of tests, which were carried out five days after the exposure.

“Those high testing numbers across the community just give us increased confidence that there’s not undetected chains of transmission out there. All the cases that we have had so far we have been able to clearly link back to those four families.”

Two new cases of coronavirus had been detected in managed isolation facilities in the past day, one of which was deemed to be historic and not infectious.

Related: 'Everyone is angry': Ardern under pressure over latest Auckland Covid lockdown

In the meantime, the government continues to face questions over the coherency of its contact-tracing system and its clarity of messaging to confirmed cases.

A confirmed case in the February Auckland cluster known as Case L denied she was told by the government to self-isolate and said she had been unfairly vilified on social media for breaking the rules.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said the woman was told not to go to work, but the New Zealand Herald reported that a government representative wrote in a comment on the official Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook page that Case L had complied with all advice.

The National party leader, Judith Collins, has backed the woman’s call for a formal apology, telling Stuff the contact-tracing system was too complicated to follow.

Hipkins said the government had made multiple attempts to contact Case L and her family, and that the expectation on her to stay home should have been clear given members of her household were showing symptoms.

“Information changes as risk changes. There was clearly enough risk here for this family to know that they should have not been engaging widely with the community.”

He condemned social media pile-ons of individuals as “not a constructive contribution to our Covid response”, but denied the government had contributed to one in this case. “I don’t think putting facts out there is doing that.”

The third batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, totalling 65,500 doses, arrived in New Zealand on Tuesday – bringing the total made available in the country so far to more than 200,000.

Hipkins said more than half the frontline border workforce – about 9,430 people, mostly in Auckland – had received their first dose. The next stage of the rollout would be vaccinating their family and household contacts, totalling some 50,000 people.

Hipkins said that was due to get underway next week, though the speed of progress was dependent on vaccine supply, which continued to be a challenge. He rejected suggestions the emphasis on the immunisation programme was fostering complacency.

“I think we can all feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is still a very long one. We’re still going to be doing this for quite some time before we can really breathe a sigh of relief around vaccinations.”