Ashley Bloomfield confirms 3 new cases of Covid-19 in the community, 2 from the border

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New Zealand has five new cases of Covid-19 today and a new "mini-cluster" has been identified.

There are three new community cases, one of which is under investigation.

Two are imported cases - a female in her 50s and a man in his 30s. They have been transferred to the Jet Park Hotel.

It takes the country's number of active cases to 134 - 21 of those are international imports and 108 are linked to the Auckland cluster, which is New Zealand's largest cluster to date.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield and Health Minister Chris Hipkins are providing the latest Covid-19 update.

Bloomfield said five people associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church have been diagnosed with Covid in the last two to three days.

People who were at services at the church on Stoddard Rd on August 8, 9 and 11 or at a wedding there on Friday, August 7 should contact Healthline.

Bloomfield said those who tested positive connected to the church were not yet linked to the cluster, so they were currently a "mini-cluster".

He said he expected the cases to be linked to the existing cluster, but an epidemiological link was yet to be established.

Genomic sequencing is underway.

Nine people are in hospital with Covid-19 - three patients in a critical condition. Two patients are in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition, three at North Shore and four at Middlemore Hospital.

A case reported yesterday is now also under investigation and genome sequencing is underway.

Auckland is in alert level 3 until 11.59pm on Sunday, when it will move to a tighter level 2 with a 10-person limit on social gatherings.

The rest of the country is at normal level 2, where there is a 100-person limit on social gatherings.

Wearing masks

Hipkins said secondary school students will need to wear masks on school buses from Monday, but younger students won't have to. The age cut-off is still being worked through.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that masks would be mandatory on public transport from Monday, August 31.

Asked about the supply of masks to Maori and Pasifika communities, Hipkins said three millions masks had been distributed and the government was working with supermarkets to ensure they had a good supply of masks.

He added that people could use a bandana as well, and surgical masks were not necessary.

Testing ramped up

Pop up testing stations have been set up in South and West Auckland to test people, even those without symptoms.

This week the Health Ministry wants to conduct 70,000 tests, 70 per cent of them in South and West Auckland to reveal more about the prevalence of Covid-19 in those areas.

Bloomfield said this will help identify the full extent of the outbreak.

There would be regular testing of asymptomatic border-facing staff, including workers at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, as well as testing of anyone who has symptoms.

The biggest community based assessment centres were closed before the Government message changed to "say yes to the test", but Bloomfield said those points of access are still there, and further mobile stations are being added.

Hipkins said there were 1021 places to get tested, 350 of which are in the Auckland metropolitan area.

"We do have the ability as the week progresses to pop up new sites."

He said the Government will not use any Covid testing information for immigration decisions, so people who have overstayed their visas should not be worried about testing positive and being chased up officials.

There had been 14 positive tests on day 12 of those in managed isolation, 12 of whom had tested negative on day three.

"This should give the community confidence that no one is coming out of managed isolation or quarantine without a clean bill of health," Hipkins said.

He said 15 people had refused a day 12 test, and they had had to stay in managed isolation for longer.

He did not know how many people had refused a day three test.

"Not everybody gets a day three test."

Bloomfield said the pop-up testing stations were in places to ensure those populations in South and West Auckland had access to testing.

Discussions were being had with DHBs and within the ministry to encourage people to get tested, he said.

"I would encourage them to seek a test."

He said he thought people would show up to get tested, and he had written to DHB bosses and given a clear directive to provide access to testing. The ministry wants to conduct 10,000 tests a day.

Bloomfield said in Queenstown, a pop-up station led to more than 1000 people getting tested.

"I don't have any sense there will be lack of willingness to be tested."

QR codes

There are now more than 1,834,000 people registered to use the NZ Covid Tracer app.

Hipkins said QR codes will be mandatory on most forms of public transport from Monday, the same day it will be compulsory to wear face masks on public transport.

He said it would provide an extra layer of assurance and speed for contact tracing.

He said it was faster to get in touch with people if they used the Covid Tracer app, which was also more useful than Hop or Snapper cards.

The QR codes will be on buses, trains, taxis, ferries and rideshare vehicles, but private vehicles will be exempt. Drivers will not be asked to ensure passengers scan the QR codes.

Hipkins said the global pandemic was still growing rapidly overseas, so managing Covid-19 at the border, including regular testing, remained important.

New health group

Hipkins revealed more people on the group co-chaired by Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche to oversee the testing strategy.

He said the group would focus on ensuring cases are quickly identified, equitable access to testing for Maori and Pasifika, and ensuring high-risk people, such as some border-facing workers were being tested.

Members of the group, announced today, are:

• Dr Api Talemaitoga - GP, chair of NZ College of GPs Pacific Chapter.

• Dr Rawiri Jansen - GP, Papakura and Clinical Director of the National Hauora Coalition.

• Professor Philip Hill - McAuley Professor of International Health and Director of the Centre for International Health at the University of Otago.

Yesterday there were seven new cases, all linked to the South Auckland cluster, which has become New Zealand's biggest cluster. It took the cluster to 109 cases.

There are three cases in the community under investigation. One is the Rydges maintenance worker whose Covid-19 strain is the same as a traveller who returned to New Zealand from the US; one is thought to have had Covid-19 months ago; one has a strain that is linked to the cluster via genomic sequencing, but it is still unknown who he caught the virus from.

This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.