Covid-19 coronavirus: Auckland into level-3 lockdown; NZ to alert level 2

VIRUS LATEST
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* Australia suspends quarantine-free travel bubble for Kiwis
* The winning formula: Experts praise quick action but Auckland businesses say it’s gut-wrenching
* The three new cases: What you need to know

Police have already set up road-blocks at eight locations on Auckland’s border and are checking vehicles coming into and leaving the region.

It comes as Auckland was forced into a snap, level-3 lockdown for at least three days from 11.59pm last night – and the rest of New Zealand into level 2 – after three positive community cases in one Auckland family.

Aucklanders are being told to work from home and not to rush to supermarkets although long queues were forming at some outlets last night. And cars on the Southern Motorway were bumper-to-bumper in some spots as many residents looked to get out.

LISTEN LIVE TO NEWSTALK ZB
6.35am: Michael Barnett; 7.05am: Jacinda Ardern; 7.15am: Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault; 7.35am: Michael Baker; 7.50am: New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom

“Eight checkpoints on the outskirts of Auckland will be stopping vehicles and questioning drivers, ensuring there is no non-essential movement through the region,” said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. “From midnight, anyone attempting to travel across the regional boundaries should expect to be stopped and asked for proof of essential travel. The exemption process will run the same way as it has previously.”

It is expected travellers will be given some leeway today.

Meanwhile, Australia has suspended its quarantine-free travel bubble for New Zealanders arriving into the country. Kiwis will now have to quarantine for 14 days. The situation will be reviewed in three days.

The dramatic developments came as an Auckland family – a mother, father and daughter – tested positive for Covid-19 and are considered community cases. The daughter attends Papatoetoe High School and a testing site is being set up there today. The school is closed today and tomorrow.

In an emergency press conference last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed Auckland would be at alert level 3 as of 11:59pm.It will stay at this level for at least three days, and Cabinet will review the setting every 24 hours.

The rest of the country has moved to alert level 2 for the same period of time – until midnight Wednesday.

Auckland University Professor of Medicine Des Gorman told Newstalk ZB’s Kate Hawkesby today that the latest cases highlighted the country had not had a proper debate about the level of acceptable risk around alert levels. Other recent cases had not sparked this level of response.

“Why are we still isolating high-risk returnees in the middle of our largest city? This is simply nuts. We are putting our livelihoods and wellbeings at risk because we are simply not managing the level of risk that we currently have appropriately. We haven’t thought through the risk we are prepared to live with. If level 3 is the right reponse then they shouldn’t have been quarantined in Auckland.”

Ardern said she was asking Aucklanders to stay home as it is the “right thing to do”. “We have stamped out the virus before, and we will do it again.”

The call was made by Cabinet after an emergency meeting on Sunday.

RULES AT A GLANCE (FULL DETAILS, SEE END OF STORY) LEVEL 3: Auckland
– Stay at home and work remotely if possible
– Schools and daycare can open but parents encouraged to keep children home
– Gatherings restricted to 10 people, but only for weddings and funerals
– Travel restrictions with borders around Auckland
– Public venues such as libraries, pools and playgrounds closed

LEVEL 2: Rest of New Zealand
– People can still go to work
– Schools and daycare remain open
– Gatherings restricted to 100 people
– Travel into Auckland restricted

Mother, father and daughter test positive

It was sparked by the emergence of the three new community cases in the family, who live in South Auckland’s Papatoetoe.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield believes the mother – who works at airline supplier LSG Sky chefs in Mangere – was the first to contract the disease. She works directly with laundry from aircraft.

There are still many unknowns and officials will work around the clock to find answers, including how the mother contracted the virus.

Ardern said the Government had again decided to go hard and early, as it was a tactic which had worked well in the past.

The new level 3 rules in Auckland meant everyone who was not an essential worker should stay home. That means schools across the city will be closed.

Ardern said supermarkets and petrol stations would remain open; she told Aucklanders there was “no need to rush out and get essential items”.

The level-3 rules mean that the Prada Cup racing that had been scheduled for Wednesday between Luna Rossa and Ineos Team UK has been postponed.

And any other event over scheduled to go ahead in the next three days will also have to be cancelled. Level 3 restrictions mean there can be no gatherings of more than 10 people unless they are for weddings funerals and tangihanga.

That number is 100 for the rest of the country, but both Ardern and Bloomfield were advising people to “be vigilant”.

Over the coming days, Ardern said officials would be working to figure out as much about the new cases as possible.

That includes undergoing another testing blitz in Auckland to find out how extensive the community transmission may have been.

Testing at Papatoetoe High School

A focal point will be on Papatoetoe High – the school that the daughter, one of the new confirmed Covid cases – attends.

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said yesterday the pupil had only been at school for one day last week.

Ardern said the Government was taking no chances – it has set up a pop-up testing station for students, parents, teachers and staff members to be tested.

There are 1400 students at the school.

And as the testing blitz begins, so too does the investigation into how the mother contracted Covid-19.

Although she worked at LSG Sky Chefs – one of the world’s largest airline catering providers – Bloomfield revealed the woman did not handle any food and it was mostly laundry.

She was receiving regular tests every two weeks but, as she was on annual leave, she did not have one more recently.

“Our understanding is they were tested on January 18 – that would have meant they would have been retested on the February 1 but they were on annual leave during that period,” Ardern said.

That means the next time they were tested was when they were symptomatic.

Ardern said those testing regimes – which are the job of the employer – “should be maintained” and this is something the Government will be looking into.

Bloomfield said it was too soon to say much about the case, as officials were still doing the genomic sequencing.

But he said it was likely either the South African, or UK variants.

Police set up road-blocks

Ardern said road-blocks would be set up around Auckland’s borders. They will be patrolled by police.

The boundaries will be set mostly in the same locations as the last time Auckland was in Alert Level 3 in August, polie said.

“Eight checkpoints on the outskirts of Auckland will be stopping vehicles and questioning drivers, ensuring there is no non-essential movement through the region.

“From midnight, anyone attempting to travel across the regional boundaries should expect to be stopped and asked for proof of essential travel.

“The exemption process will run the same way as it has previously.”

All front counters in Tāmaki Makaurau are closed to the public with the exception of Henderson (Waitematā), College Hill (Auckland City) and the Counties Manukau Hub, which are all open 24/7 but with restricted access, police said.

North Shore Policing Centre will also be open 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, with restricted access.

Ardern urged people to limit their travel and said she would be asking all her Auckland-based MPs to remain in the city.

A 'devastating blow' – Collins

A spokesperson for National leader Judith Collins said that whether or not her party would also do this was still being discussed by its leadership.

In a statement, Collins said the lockdown will be a “devastating blow to New Zealanders who have sacrificed so much to keep this country Covid-free”.

“The Government must now move swiftly to find the source of this latest community outbreak, and to vaccinate our border workers as a matter of urgency.”

She said avoiding this very scenario at all costs should have been the Government’s top priority.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker praised the Government’s response, dubbing the lockdown a “winning formula”.

“I would say that I really support the measures,” he told the Herald.

“This is absolutely the right thing to do at the moment and I can’t really improve on the words of our leaders here that this vigorous, rapid response is absolutely the way to go. It’s the winning formula.”

Meanwhile, officials are asking anyone who was at the same location as the mother and daughter over Waitangi weekend to make themselves known to officials, and to self-isolate.

Twenty-one locations and times of interest have so far been released.

They are the school, plus: BP Papakura, McDonalds Drury, Gas Piopio, Te Rewarewa Bridge,Sumela Kebab,Amber Court Motel, Pukekura Park, Egmont National Park, Cycle Inn New Plymouth, Puke Ariki Library and Museum, Pizza Hut New Plymouth, Back Beach, BP Breakwater Road, McDonalds Otorohanga, Pak’nSave Manukau, Chemist Warehouse Westfield Manukau, Bunnings Warehouse Manukau, Bunnings Warehouse Takanini, Bunnings Warehouse Botany, Ranfurly Skinny Superette.

Bloomfield said it was important that everyone in NZ played their part right now.

“Keep up the hard work,” he said.

Air NZ cancels food services

Air New Zealand last night said it had made a number of changes to its services as a result of the alert level changes.

Customers travelling to and from Auckland should check they are eligible to travel under the restrictions.

“Customers travelling from Alert Level 2 regions are able to transit through Auckland on their way to other Alert Level 2 regions.

“Food and beverage service onboard domestic flights had already been suspended in response to the latest community cases and this suspension will remain in place until further notice. Water is available on request on all flights.

“Air New Zealand’s Auckland lounges and valet parking will close [from Monday]. Due to capacity restrictions under Alert Level 2, the maximum number of people able to access the airline’s lounges in other regions is capped at 100.

“While the country is at elevated Alert Levels, Air New Zealand will be taking extra precautions to keep its staff and customers safe. Air New Zealand front line staff and cabin crew will be wearing masks and gloves and customers are required to continue to wear face coverings onboard.

“Customers with existing bookings between Monday February 15 and Sunday February 21 who wish to rebook to travel before Sunday March 7 will have any fare difference waived, and customers can call the contact centre to arrange this.

“In addition to this, customers who hold a ticket for a domestic flight scheduled to depart up until March 30, 2021, and no longer wish to travel are able to opt in for credit and can do this via the airline’s online booking tool.

“Customers who are unable to manage their booking online do not need to contact Air New Zealand immediately or prior to their flight’s departure – assistance will be provided at a later date to find an alternative flight option or a credit note can be arranged.”

Level 3 rules

* You legally must stay within your household bubble whenever you’re not at work or school. You can expand this to connect with close family and whānau, bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. It’s important to protect your bubble. Keep your bubble exclusive and only include people where it will keep you and them safe and healthy. If anyone within your bubble feels unwell, they legally must immediately self-isolate from everyone else within the bubble.

* Do not invite or allow social visitors, such as friends, extended family and whānau, to enter your home

* Gatherings of up to 10 people can continue, but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga

* Public venues legally must close. This includes libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets.

* Where possible the Ministry of Health encourages students to learn from home. Schools can safely open but will have limited capacity.

* You can travel within your local area, for example going to work or school, shopping, or getting exercise. Public transport can continue to operate with strict health and safety requirements

* Travel between regions is heavily restricted

* You should keep a distance of at least two metres in public and retail stores, like supermarkets and one metre in controlled environments, like workplaces and schools

* You’re strongly encouraged to wear a face covering when you’re outside your home and in a place where it’s hard to stay two metres away from other people, like in shops. You legally must wear a face covering on public transport.

* If your business requires close physical contact it can’t operate

* The Ministry of Health recommends your staff work from home if they can

* Businesses need to display a QR code and have an alternative contact tracing system

* The Ministry recommends making sure people either scan in or provide their contact details

* Customers cannot come onto your premises — unless you are a supermarket, dairy, butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, petrol station, pharmacy or permitted health service

* Your business legally must be contactless. Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way. Delivery or pick-up legally must also be contactless

* Basic hygiene measures legally must be maintained. Physical distancing, hand washing and regularly cleaning surfaces. Workers legally must stay home if they are sick

* Staff legally must remain a minimum of 1 metre apart at all times where practical. The ministry recommends other measures, such as PPE including face coverings, being used where appropriate.

* Different advice applies to essential healthcare workers, border agencies, courts and tribunal staff, first responders and corrections staff. You can get further advicefrom the Ministry of Health

* You legally must meet all other health and safety obligations.

Level 2 rules

* No more than 100 people at social gatherings, including weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihanga

* Businesses can open, but they legally must follow public health rules. These include physical distancing and record keeping.

* Alternative ways of working are encouraged where possible

* Talk with your staff to identify risks and ways to manage them.

* Ask everyone — workers, contractors and customers — with cold, flu or Covid-19 symptoms to stay away from your premises

Keep workers one metre apart and customers in retail businesses two metres apart

* Businesses are legally required to display a QR code and provide an alternative contact tracing system

* Face coverings are strongly encouraged if you are in close contact with others

* Reduce the number of shared surfaces, and regularly disinfect them. Wash your hands.

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