Covid-19: Auckland MIQ worker tests positive, virus variant under investigation

A worker at a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.

In its 1pm statement, the Ministry of Health said the positive result, returned on Friday afternoon, was picked up as part of routine border worker surveillance testing.

Whole genome sequencing is being carried out to find out if it is the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and the results will be reported in Sunday’s 1pm update.

The worker tested positive after routine surveillance testing.

Investigations are underway to determine if the worker was infected in the community or at the facility where they work.

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The worker is fully vaccinated, in line with vaccine mandate requirements for those staff, and is tested regularly.

Household and workplace close contacts of the case have been identified and were being tested. A number of household contacts have returned negative tests so far.

The ministry would not release information on which MIQ the person works at for “privacy reasons”, nor would it confirm which published locations of interest were linked to the case, again citing privacy.

Further information would be released if determined necessary to manage public health risk, a spokesman told Stuff on Saturday afternoon.

It also did not give an update on whether any new Omicron cases had been detected at the border in the past 24 hours.

University of Otago (Wellington) epidemiologist Professor Nick Wilson said chances were the worker would have been infected in MIQ given the large number of cases coming through at the border, versus those in the community in Auckland.

“That is a concern.”

Professor Nick Wilson of the University of Otago (Wellington)

Wilson said the Government had not responded to the “ridiculously high” number of infected people entering New Zealand, which he said was at a “completely unsustainable level”.

The seven-day rolling average of border cases is 30 – higher than the rolling average of community cases, which is 25.

Wilson said given what was known about the “track-record of MIQ failures”, New Zealand was likely just weeks away from an Omicron outbreak in the community.

He said that while one infected border worker probably won’t trigger an outbreak, if there were enough positive cases among MIQ workers – given Omicron’s infectiousness – that would raise the risk.

Leading epidemiologists continue to call for the Government to turn down the tap on arrivals into the country, to lessen the risk of Omicron cases being caught at the border.

Experts have said Omicron’s spread into the community is inevitable, and Wilson said it would be desirable to delay that as long as possible to allow time to get booster doses up; to vaccinate the 5-11 group; and to learn from Australia’s experiences regarding managing hospital capacity and supply lines.

Wilson believed the Government should be turning down the tap on arrivals, and tightening up MIQ processes. He said all staff and travellers should be wearing N95 masks, and the use of shared spaces for travellers should be reviewed.

He also suggested travellers could be required to undergo a rapid antigen test at the airport on departure, and not be allowed to fly if it was positive.

Since December 1, a total of 266 cases of Omicron have been detected at New Zealand’s border.

During that time more than 18,000 people have arrived in the country and have been processed through managed isolation and quarantine.

The number of cases of the Omicron at the border amounted to 1.47 per cent of all travellers during that time, the ministry said on Friday.

That means roughly one in every 66 travellers has the variant.

On Wednesday, the ministry said the number of Omicron cases at the border since December 1 outnumbered the number of Delta cases by more than 10 to one.

It comes as a doctor has warned Omicron will overwhelm an “already overwhelmed system” if any spread is not contained.