All of New Zealand will remain in Level 4 lockdown until at least the end of Friday – and Auckland for longer – as the number of Covid-19 cases in the community reaches three figures, the Government has announced

New Zealand’s stay at Level 4 has been extended until at least the end of the week – and Auckland for longer – to see off the Delta variant of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Ardern said while officials were starting to build a picture of Delta’s spread, “there remain a number of unanswered questions, and with Delta, more certainty is needed”.

While wastewater testing for Covid-19 had returned positive results in Auckland and Wellington only, more than 320 locations of interest and over 13,000 contacts around the country had been identified due to the more stringent approach taken to tackle Delta.

Those contacts were not isolated to one part of the country, and only included those people health officials knew of.

“For large locations of interest, reaching everyone will not be a perfect process and caution is required,” Ardern said.

High testing levels provided some assurance that new cases were being caught early, but modelling suggested New Zealand had not yet reached the peak of the outbreak.

“That does mean though that the safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer.”

The whole country would remain at Alert Level 4 until 11.59pm Friday night, with Auckland to stay at full lockdown until 11.59pm next Tuesday – giving the epicentre of the Delta cluster a full two weeks at Level 4.

As part of the lockdown extension, Ardern said she had decided to suspend Parliament for one week on the advice of Director-General of Health Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, given the risk of bringing MPs to Wellington from around the country. However, all ministers had been asked to make themselves available for questioning at select committees which would continue to meet virtually.

The announcement comes after the Ministry of Health announced there were 35 new Covid cases in the community on Monday – 33 in Auckland and the remaining two in Wellington.

This brings the total number of cases in the community outbreak to 107 on day six of nationwide lockdown and is the most cases seen in New Zealand since April 10 last year, when 44 cases were recorded.

Of the 107 cases, only 35 continue to be under investigation to determine whether they are epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.

But the Ministry of Health says “most have a plausible link on initial assessment” such as having been at a location of interest.

Crowne Plaza investigation continues

On Sunday Newsroom reported a public walkway right next to the Auckland Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility was a possible link to how Delta got out into the community.

The person who is the likely source of the infection arrived at the Crowne Plaza from Sydney on an August 7 ‘red-zone’ flight and was moved into quarantine on August 9.

In response to questions from Newsroom, Bloomfield said: “Three people who had used that public walkway were possibly there at the point when this person who we think is the source of the outbreak was moved into the hotel’’.

Newsroom had raised concerns about the public walkway, which is only separated from the exercise area by a two-metre barrier and shares the same air as returnees isolated at the Crowne Plaza.

On Monday the Ministry of Health corrected Bloomfield’s comments.

“A total of six people walked in the open walkway while the case was in the lobby, of those four have been identified and three have tested negative and one person is in the process of getting a test. There are two people still to be identified, which police are assisting with,’’ the statement said.

“This thoroughfare is located inside the Crowne Plaza building and is not the outside walkway which is used to access the Huawei Centre.

“It has been confirmed the case was indoors while a very small number of people walked in the open walkway, which is well ventilated.”

This means there are now two areas at the Crowne Plaza that share space with a public thoroughfare – one by the exercise area that provides access to the Huawei Centre and another in the atrium of the Plaza.

Testing and contact tracing for Covid cases

There were 35,766 tests processed across the country on Sunday, roughly 17,000 of them in Auckland alone.

In Auckland on Monday there are 16 community testing centres open including the additional one at the Pukekohe showgrounds announced by Bloomfield on Sunday.

More than 3850 tests were processed in Wellington and the greater region on Sunday.

Wastewater testing continues to be carried out but there are no new results from sites other than the positive wastewater samples from Auckland and Wellington reported the day before.

The Ministry of Health says the number of contacts from this outbreak have increased considerably, which was to be expected.

As of 8am on Monday there were 13,230 individual contacts identified – the majority of which are close contacts. Work is underway to contact more than 6000 of them.

There are also more than 280 locations of interest, 11 of them are in Wellington and there are also two flights between Auckland and Wellington.

Regarding vaccines, there were 35,000 doses administered nationally on Sunday.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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