New Zealand is not yet looking at a level 4 lockdown, because the rising number of Covid-19 cases are all related to a single cluster, the health minister has said.
Chris Hipkins told Radio NZ that more than one cluster would have to be circulating for the country to rise to level 4 restrictions, and so far there was no evidence of that, though more cases from the same cluster had emerged overnight.
There are 17 cases of Covid-19 linked to the south Auckland cluster, and the city of 1.4 million is under level 3 lockdown for three days, meaning people can only venture out for food or exercise.
Jacinda Ardern will meet with cabinet at 3pm local time on Friday to discuss where to next, and at 5.30pm she will hold a media briefing to announce her decision on whether Auckland’s lockdown will extend past midnight.
Epidemiological experts widely believe the city’s lockdown will be extended, as the source case of the outbreak has yet to be identified, though there is increasingly strong evidence that it may have originated at a quarantine or border facility.
New Zealand’s former chief scientist Sir David Skegg said he was “shocked” that 60% of staff working at the border had not taken a test for the virus, calling it an “extraordinary” oversight as those people were at the frontline of managing new cases of the virus brought in by overseas arrivals.
“In my view [a weekly test] should have been compulsory,” Skegg said.
“I think it is absolutely vital for our elimination status that we have the most stringent protections at the border.”
The health minister said everybody working on the border will have been tested by the weekend, but that introducing mandatory testing prior to the outbreak would have been “heavy-handed”.
Lockdown did not need to be extended nationwide if testing could prove the virus hadn’t spread, Skegg said, though he deemed this possibility highly unlikely.
“I would be very surprised if the current restrictions aren’t continued if not increased,” Skegg said.
“I must say I think we will be extremely lucky if it has not spread to other parts of the country by now, because clearly this outbreak has been going for some time. We celebrated 100 days of no community spread but it was spreading the whole time – so we didn’t go 100 days.”
In Auckland many people appear resigned to an extension of lockdown, though many businesses say if it is extended they will not survive.
Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve)
Good morning Auckland pic.twitter.com/OK8eZlk3a1