A public walkway right next to an Auckland MIQ exercise area could explain how Delta got out in the community, writes political editor Jo Moir

While the source of the Delta outbreak that plummeted New Zealand into a Level 4 lockdown is all but confirmed, how it got into the community is a work in progress.

Investigations are now homing in on a public walkway that shares the same airspace as the exercise area at the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility.

In July Newsroom raised the issue of the public thoroughfare, which is the only access to a busy office block in downtown Auckland and requires passing directly beside the exercise yard via an un-roofed walkway.

The walkway was still in use at the time the likely source of the Delta infection arrived at the Crowne Plaza from Sydney on an August 7 ‘red-zone’ flight and moved into quarantine on August 9.

The thoroughfare providing access to Huawei Centre (green) is within a few feet of the exercise yard for the Crown Plaza MIQ facility (orange). Photo: Supplied by concerned pedestrian.

On Sunday the Director-General of Health Doctor Ashley Bloomfield told Newsroom, “Three people who had used that public walkway were possibly there at the point in time when this person who we think is the source of the outbreak was moved into the hotel’’.

“The team is working with police to identify and follow up with each of those people to see if they may be part of the existing outbreak,’’ he said.

This comes after the Prime Minister told Newsroom on Friday the suspected source of the outbreak had never used the exercise area as they tested positive on day three – before returnees are allowed to leave their rooms.

But Bloomfield says the crossover with members of the public looks to have been when the Sydney returnee arrived at the Crowne Plaza.

The country went into national lockdown on Tuesday night and the genomic link with the Sydney returnee was announced on Thursday by Ardern.

But by Sunday – three days later – Bloomfield said police were still following up with the people identified on CCTV.

Both members of the public and public health experts told Newsroom last month the thoroughfare was of concern.

University of Otago epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig explained the risk.

“There’ve been some instances with Delta variant outbreaks where transmission occurred during a very short interaction or where people weren’t particularly close to one another,” she said.

“An outdoors interaction in an exercise setting in relatively still air may still present a risk of rebreathing air, and procedures need to be put in place to avoid this situation.”

The barrier between pedestrians and those in MIQ is around two metres tall, but without a roof – meaning people are within breathing distance of the exhaling exercisers from isolation.

While the public walkway remains under investigation, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins says staff at the Crowne Plaza have been “almost ruled out” as responsible for taking Delta out into the community.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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