The link to the Australian outbreak gives officials a major clue as to the potential origins of the Delta incursion, Marc Daalder reports

Genomic sequencing of yesterday’s Delta Covid-19 case has found it is linked to the Delta outbreak in Australia, which started in New South Wales.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the finding at Wednesday afternoon’s 1pm press conference, at which Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there were six new cases of Covid-19 in the community. Those six cases include the four cases notified this morning. That brings the total scope of the Delta outbreak so far to seven cases.

Ardern said the genomic link meant the virus could have come through MIQ or hitched a ride with someone returning from Australia prior to the hard close of the Trans-Tasman bubble.

Three people from Sydney have tested positive in MIQ since July 1, Ardern said. Sequencing which might match their genomes to that of the community case (or rule out a connection) is still ongoing.

In the event that no link is established to MIQ, the Government is preparing to contact everyone who returned from Australia prior to the reimposition of MIQ requirements. After the trans-Tasman bubble shut on July 23, New Zealanders outside of New South Wales and Victoria were still able to return without quarantine for a week. Those in Victoria were required to isolate at home upon returning and get tested on Day 3. All returnees still needed a negative pre-departure test.

The link to Australia “gives us a lot of leads to chase down as quickly as we can,” Ardern said.

So far, all of the community cases have epidemiological links to one another. The four announced this morning are all flatmates and one of them works with the Devonport man identified yesterday. The two new cases are friends of the flatmates.

One of the other flatmates is a fully vaccinated nurse at Auckland City Hospital and another is a teacher at Avondale College.

Bloomfield said that the cases had been “out and about a lot” and would likely generate many locations of interest. While he didn’t have all the details, he wanted to flag two particularly important exposure locations: The Auckland Central Church of Christ that meets in Freemans Bay on Sunday and the SkyCity Casino on Saturday evening, possibly into the early hours of Sunday.

The most up-to-date list of locations of interest can be found on the Ministry of Health website.

“We are absolutely anticipating more cases,” Ardern said.

Modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini that Bloomfield had seen indicated the outbreak could currently involve between 50 and 120 cases. That depended on how far removed from the border the first identified cases are.

Ardern also provided updates on two other issues: mandatory mask use and the vaccine rollout.

From 11.59pm on Wednesday, masks will be mandatory for people visiting essential businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies, for staff at these venues, and for people at bus terminals in train stations. That’s on top of the preexisting requirements to wear masks on public transport, in cabs and on domestic flights.

In essence, Ardern said, if you’re somewhere that is allowed to open to people during Level 4, you will have to wear a mask.

The vaccine rollout, which was paused for 48 hours, will resume at 8am tomorrow. District Health Boards have now activated their plans for progressing the programme at Level 4. Some bookings may be moved or postponed to ensure that venues don’t become too crowded.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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