An Auckland MIQ worker testing positive is a sign that we "absolutely have to turn down" positive Covid-19 cases from the border, University of Otago epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker says.
The Ministry of Health told 1News on Wednesday morning the worker at SO Hotel had tested positive during routine surveillance testing for Covid-19. The worker had little contact with guests due to the hours they were working.
Public health officials have not yet identified any clear evidence of in-facility transmission.
Baker said while the Government has confirmed there is a low risk of transmission at this stage, “this is a marker of the ongoing threat that the very infectious Delta variant poses to New Zealand”.
“It’s transmitted in aerosols, we don’t know how the current outbreak started, how it got out of an MIQ facility, so this is a sign of what we’re up against,” he told Midday.
He said while control over Auckland’s current outbreak is “looking positive”, the possibility of another Covid-19 case from an MIQ facility going undetected before emerging in the community is “the big threat for New Zealand over the months ahead”.
“The message is we absolutely have to turn down a number of infected people arriving here, and this means quite different policies.”
Baker suggested rapid testing before getting on flights and again after arriving at the airport so they can be transported to higher-security facilities, such as the Jet Park.
“This is the huge threat that’s facing us. The system’s working well in these MIQ facilities. As they said, the people are being vaccinated and regularly tested, and so they are being detected, hopefully, before they can infect other people but it’s just a sign of what we’re up against.”
He said the “thing to focus on” amid the current outbreak is “the cases in the community where we don’t know where they’ve come from because they can be out there infecting others”.
“We really want to see that number drop to nought for several days to say, ‘Yes, things are looking positive for moving down in alert levels in Auckland.’
“The numbers on their own don’t matter so much. Often, they reflect people who are already in quarantine, safely looked after, and they’re just getting results from positive tests, say, at day 12.”
Baker added that while asymptomatic cases “may well be out there”, “perhaps maybe only one in five - maybe a bit more of the cases - actually result in a lot of transmission so we don’t have to absolutely find every asymptomatic case in the community to stamp this out, but we do want to find those who are potentially infecting others”.
“Ideally, we’d find them all and so they could be put into isolation … It’s good news that the essential workers have been tested a lot and we’re not finding many positives.
“The main message to everyone in Auckland now is: any symptoms at all, go and get tested. It’s way up there, of course, with the other messages - vaccinate and wear a mask.”