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Travel bubble has first Covid scare

Editorial

Health authorities were right to label the risk of Covid-19 getting to New Zealand from the cluster developing in Sydney last week as low — a low probability, but a very high impact should it do so. We are now in the uncomfortable situation of waiting to hear what they will do about an infectious man having spent the weekend in Wellington, and then waiting to see if cases might pop up here.

This Sydney cluster was always a concern as it involves the highly-infectious Delta strain of the virus, transmission had occurred at the popular Westfield Bondi Junction mall, and our links with Australia's biggest city are extensive — even in a time of more limited travel since the bubble opened two months ago.

Yesterday afternoon we were told 16 people in New Zealand had been linked to locations of interest in Sydney's cluster, five of whom were required to self-isolate for 14 days and be tested twice (their first tests had returned negative). The other 11 were required to self-isolate until they return a negative five-day test.

Australian public health officials had just announced 10 new cases in Sydney, lifting the cluster to 21. That elevated the risk too much, so our Government was advised to pause the travel bubble with New South Wales — which happened at 11.59pm last night, for 72 hours.

About 8pm, after giving the advice, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was notified that one of those cases in Sydney had just spent the weekend in Wellington.

The assumption is that he was infectious while doing “tourist things” in the capital. Four close contacts here have been identified.

This morning “locations of interest” are being notified and made public along with times visited — they include Te Papa on Saturday afternoon and Jack Hackett's Bar from 8.45pm-midnight on Saturday — and health authorities are considering whether to put the capital into lockdown, or to require wider use of masks and restrictions on gathering size for a time.

Bloomfield said there would be “quite a number of exposure sites” and “everything is on the table”. An announcement is expected at 1pm.

Meanwhile, the NZ Herald is reporting today that as of two weeks ago, about 2400 of our 12,600 active border workers had yet to get a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Many won't be subject to the public health order requiring vaccination as they work for private companies; that order should be extended to cover them too. Just as concerning, 144 managed isolation workers were overdue for a Covid-19 test.